At a glance
• Colowyo Coal Company LP plans to move all digging operations to Rio Blanco County by 2011.
• Colowyo paid about $1.7 million in property taxes to Moffat County, about $700,000 of which went to the county.
• The loss will be gradual to Moffat County.
• Officials have known about the move for a few years. Commissioner Tom Gray said the county should be able to cut increases in spending without affecting current services.
Craig By 2011, Colowyo Coal Company LP plans to move all of its digging operations south to Rio Blanco County.
The move would take most of Colowyo's property taxes off Moffat County tax rolls, Moffat County Assessor Suzanne Brinks said.
Colowyo owns and operates a coal mine in southern Moffat County, near Highway 13. It is the second highest taxpayer in Moffat County, Brinks said.
In 2007, she added, Colowyo's property taxes amounted to about $1.7 million, which is shared among the county, Moffat County School District and Colorado Northwestern Community College.
Moffat County stands to lose about $700,000 in property taxes during the next three years as Colowyo transitions to digging in Rio Blanco County.
There probably will not be any drastic, overnight changes for the county, Brinks said.
"The county is not going to experience this $700,000 loss in one year because they're still going to be producing in our county until 2011," she said.
After Colowyo's move, Moffat County still will see revenue from the mine after digging moves south, Brinks said.
Colowyo maintains all its offices in Moffat County, she said, as well as its crushing equipment and railroad operations.
Mine representatives are drafting a proposed plan between Colowyo Coal and Moffat and Rio Blanco county authorities that would split tax revenues in the future, Brinks said, adding officials hope a plan will be signed by the end of the year.
The mine's move is not related to any political concerns, said Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources Department director. The coal seam that Colowyo digs runs south, across the county divide, and the company is following the resources.
The mine isn't moving away, Comstock added.
"It's just moving down the road," he said.
He and Brinks said the move likely will not force Colowyo employees to relocate or prompt the mine to cut staff.
Brinks added that there is no indication Colowyo will not return to Moffat County in the future.
Comments on behalf of Colowyo Coal could not be prepared by press time Monday, said Bob Green, director of sustainable development for Rio Tinto Energy America, the parent company of Colowyo Coal. The mine will have information available by week's end.
The School District will not be affected by the move because Colorado law requires the state to make up any local shortfall to the public school funding formula, said Mark Rydberg, district finance manager.
A CNCC representative could not be reached by press time.
Funding county services
There is no possible way to tell if Moffat County will be able to make up all or more of the budget shortfall, Brinks said.
In her opinion, though, she said, Colowyo's move does make the county more dependent on the oil and gas industries.
Commissioner Tom Gray said officials have been aware the mine would move south for a couple of years, adding the county does not plan to cut services.
"We shouldn't have to," he said. "We need to be very careful about increasing spending or committing to increasing spending in the future.
"Unless something beside Colowyo factors in, with our current assessed value and income from other sources, I believe we can continue funding services at the level we have."
Gray said the county could do some things to limit spending, which has increased about 8 percent each year for the past few.
"We can do things like cut back on capital," he said, "such as equipment spending, which we've been using to replace old equipment, and some more road overlays, which we may have to cut back on.
"But this is why we have reserves," he added, "so that we can prepare for these things until it balances out."
The county pulled in more property tax revenue than it could legally keep in 2007, and was forced to drop its mill levy by more than 1 mill. State law limits a 5.5 percent revenue increase for governments from one year to the next.
If the county is able to bring its mill levies up to their full voter-approved amount, that could be a factor in helping the county make up some of the losses from Colowyo's move, as well, Gray said.
Brinks agreed it would be a factor, adding that with so many other variables, there is no way to determine how big of a factor.
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org