Voters to decide on excess taxes

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Moffat County voters will decide in November whether the county can keep excess property tax revenues.

County commissioners voted Tuesday to place a referendum on November's ballot asking residents to forgo money that would be refunded to taxpayers under a 1913 law.

This year's property tax excess totals $269,000.

The referendum would sunset in five years, meaning the refunds will be restored in 2010.

The exact ballot question has not yet been written.

Under the 1913 law, county property tax revenues are not allowed to grow by more than 5.5 percent annually. Any property tax revenues above 5.5 percent higher than the previous year must be refunded to the taxpayers.

For example, if 2005's property tax revenues are 7 percent higher than 2004, the county would have to refund 1.5 percent.

"We want to go to the people and ask for permission to use this money," Commissioner Darryl Steele said at Tuesday's meeting.

If the referendum passes, residents would forgo about $269,000 in refunds this year, the amount by which the county's tax revenues exceeded the 5.5 percent threshold.

Roughly $215,000 of that would go to the county's top-10 taxpayers, such as the power plant and coal mines.

The average homeowner would receive a $6 tax credit and the average business owner would receive a $20 tax credit.

The commissioners said the money would be used for capital projects such as repairing the courthouse roof and buying new equipment for the Road and Bridge Department.

If the voters forgo their refunds, the city of Craig and town of Dinosaur would receive a percentage of the money during the first year.

Exactly how much would go to the municipalities and what capital projects would be completed has not been determined.

"We will have those figures before we go to the voters," Steele said.

The 1913 law allows the commissioners to keep the excess revenues without going to the voters, but the commissioners said Tuesday that they did not want to do that.

"We want the public to decide and vote on this measure," Com--missioner Saed Tayyara said.

Commissioner Tom Gray said the 5.5 percent limitation usually works, but a recent decline in property tax revenue has hurt portions of the county.

"Government doesn't usually need to grow at a faster rate than inflation," Gray said.

In 2003, the assessed value in the county was $298 million, down from $321 million the previous year.

The 5.5 percent limitation means when assessed values climb, revenues are limited by down years.

Based on this year's assessed property values, Moffat County Budget Analyst Tinneal Gerber said the total refund for next year will be substantially higher than this year's, about $900,000.

But beyond 2006, Gerber doesn't know whether the county will exceed the 5.5 percent threshold.

"It's so hard to project property taxes," Gerber said, because construction and other improvements can change property values.

In 1996, Moffat County voters approved a de-Brucing measure freeing the county from some of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights' revenue limitations.

The de-Brucing measure -- named for TABOR author and current El Paso County Commissioner Douglas Bruce -- allowed the county to keep revenue from grants and other taxes that would have been refunded under TABOR.

The commissioners said Tuesday that they assumed at the time the de-Brucing measure applied to property tax revenue limitations.

"As a voter, I thought this was included when we de-Bruced," Commissioner Steele said.

But, the Attorney General later determined the county's de-Brucing measure applied only to 1992's TABOR amendment, not the law from 1913.

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