County to ask voters for funds

Ballot measure seeks property taxes for road improvements

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A truck drives over a section of Routt County Road 14, south of Colorado 131, on Wednesday. Routt County will ask voters in November to approve additional property tax revenues to fund road improvements throughout the county. Commissioner Doug Monger said a future "total restoration" of C.R. 14 is "a major ingredient of the road program we're doing."

— The city won't be alone in asking for increased property taxes this November.

On Tuesday, the Routt County Board of Commissioners approved a ballot question that will ask voters to allow county government to be exempted from a state statute that limits the growth of property taxes. The increased revenues would fund improvements to 59 miles of county roads during the next six years.

Also Tuesday, the city of Steamboat Springs approved ballot questions to fund the construction, operation and maintenance of a proposed $34 million recreation center with property taxes.

The county hopes to raise $3.3 million beginning in 2008 to fund its road improvements. The improvements are based on the recommendations of the Citizen Road Review Committee, which was established in spring 2006.

"It was obvious to us that there was definitely a need to make a plan to accomplish these improvements," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

To raise that amount of money, the commissioners are asking to be allowed to assess property taxes at a rate of up to 12.266 mills. That mill levy is actually a decrease from this year's mill levy of 12.420, but it is a smaller decrease than would be required by the state statute. If the ballot measure does not pass, the mill levy will fall to 9.229. Voters have already exempted all other county taxes from the state statute, known as TABOR.

Commissioner Doug Monger said the improvements are needed because of more people living in rural Routt County and more people traveling its roads to reach recreational locations.

"We can't keep up with the existing level of service, let alone future needs," Monger said.

Stahoviak said property taxes were the only option. Other options, such as an increased sales tax, were not available because of state statute restrictions on county governments.

"The county, as a county government, is very limited in the sources of revenue that we can get from voters," Stahoviak said. "Property tax is really the only way we can go to our voters and request more revenue."

The scheduled road improvements are scattered throughout the county over the next six years. Proposed projects include widening shoulders on Routt County Road 129, reconstructing much of C.R. 14 south of Colo. Highway 131, and hard-surfacing several roads that are currently unpaved.

Because the county is required by state statute to share property taxes it collects within municipalities, the governments of Yampa, Oak Creek, Hayden and Steamboat Springs would also receive a boost to their road and bridge budgets. The city of Steamboat Springs, for example, would stand to gain $818,000 annually.

The $3.3 million raised annually would be used accordingly during the next six years: $2.6 million will be dedicated to road and bridge improvements, with $818,000 of that amount going to the municipalities' road and bridge budgets. The remaining $700,000 will be used to pay for increased county operating expenses, including energy and personnel costs.

The total cost of the road projects is projected to be $18,936,000. The property taxes will pay for $10,436,000, and county reserves will cover $8.5 million. Monger said the county is often criticized for the size of its reserves and said he hopes this contribution will relieve some of that animosity.

"We believe this is an appropriate match," Monger said.

After six years, the additional funds will no longer be earmarked for road improvements. Commissioners said they didn't want to tie the hands of future boards. Possible projects that might be funded are expansions to Yampa Valley Regional Airport and the construction of a new office building on the downtown campus.

The commissioners this week made presentations on the ballot questions to the city of Steamboat Springs and the town of Yampa. Similar presentations will be made on Sept. 20 in Hayden and Sept. 27 in Oak Creek.

"Our goal is, No. 1, to do a little public outreach in the county," Stahoviak said.

Since the municipalities would receive a portion of the additional property tax, Stahoviak said the commissioners wanted to keep them informed so they could develop a plan for how to use the money and share it with their citizens.

Monger said the windfall could be especially beneficial to Steamboat Springs, and would allow it to fund projects such as developing bike lanes and preparing for development on the west side of the city.

"We hope they'd get on board with us," Monger said.

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