“I’m very much in support”
Mt. Crested Butte residents will have two questions specific to their town to consider on this November’s ballot. While one of the questions stands to effectively double the town’s property tax, a few homeowners recently spoke in support of the ballot issues during a presentation last Thursday, September 4.
“I’m very much in support of this issue and plan to vote yes,” said Mt. Crested Butte resident Richard Dobbin.
One of the questions will ask Mt. Crested Butte residents to allow the town to withdraw $8.7 million in municipal bonds. The bond money would then be used to finance a number of projects, including $2.5 million in backlogged road repairs, an extension of the recreation path, a new pedestrian bridge and a new maintenance facility.
The second question on the ballot will deal with three different tax-related issues at once. First, the town seeks to increase the mil levy on property values by three points, thereby increasing property taxes for all property owners.
Second, the town would like to “de-Bruce” the town’s existing 5.4 mil levy rate. De-Brucing refers to eliminating the financial restrictions on property tax imposed by the TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) amendment. Under TABOR the town is only able to use 2.8 mils of the existing levy, and the remainder of the funds are redistributed to property owners through a tax credit.
Finally, the town hopes to continue an additional 0.5 percent sales tax that is now set to sunset at the end of the year. Without that continuance, the town’s sales tax would drop to 4 percent.
Mt. Crested Butte councilman Gary Keiser led Thursday’s presentation on the ballot issues, including the story behind the creation of the town’s Five Year Financial Plan and an explanation of how the funds provided by the ballot issues would be used. “This is the first time the town has had more than an annual budget,” Keiser said of the Five Year Plan.
The Five Year plan was created to alleviate the town’s dependence on sales tax as a primary revenue source. The town has experienced budget shortfalls in two of the past five years. “Sales tax is a big chunk of our revenue,” Keiser said. “Over the past five years it has been 41 percent of the general fund revenue. Unfortunately, sales tax varies a lot.”
Keiser said the variance in sales tax makes year-to-year fiscal planning more difficult. On the other hand, property tax revenues have remained relatively stable, he said.
Keiser said there were two sides to the financial plan, one that assumes the proposed ballot issues will pass, and one that assumes neither of the issues will pass.
Assuming the ballot question involving the tax increase is successful, Keiser said Mt. Crested Butte would still have taxes lower than communities like Telluride’s Mountain Village.
“We think we’re not out of line with other Colorado resort communities,” he said. The tax increase would cost residential property owners an additional $44 per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value, per year. Statewide, commercial property values are assessed at a higher rate than residential properties, so the tax increase will cost those properties an additional $161.50 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Mayor William Buck said Jackson and Pitkin counties developed similar financial plans based on property tax in 2000, “anticipating property tax would be the basis of their growth.”
If the ballot issues do not pass, Keiser said, some desired capital improvements—including the backlogged road repairs, rec path extension and maintenance facility—would be significantly delayed. If the measures do not pass, other consequences would include town vehicles and police cars not being replaced as often, and no money would be set aside to fund the initial operations of the proposed aquatic recreation center. Town employees would also be directly affected. “We probably can’t do that without making some reductions in staffing and services,” Keiser said.
The public then had a chance to comment on the ballot issues and financial plan.
Mike Kelly, a second-home owner, said, “It’s very thoughtful, I think it’s the right thing to do. It makes sense to increase the property tax revenues to get that even stream.” But Kelly asked if second-home owners were supplying most of the tax revenue, rather than full-time residents in Mt. Crested Butte.
Finance director Karl Trujillo said over half of the property tax revenue comes from residential properties. Of residences, Trujillo said, 75 percent were second homes.
“So I can make the assumption that most of the property tax increase will not fall on people who live and work here year-round,” Kelly asked.
“That’s true,” Keiser said.
Although second-home owners will be affected, only residents and registered voters in Mt. Crested Butte have the opportunity to vote on the ballot issues.
Full-time resident Richard Dobbin said he was in support of the issues.
“My initial reaction was I don’t want my taxes to go up,” Dobbin said. After consideration, Dobbin reached two conclusions. First, property owners he spoke with in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida “pay a substantial amount more (in property tax) than we do here in Mt. Crested Butte,” Dobbin said.
“I look at this as bringing ourselves up to the realistic level we should be at as far as how we fund what happens in Mt. Crested Butte.”
Second, Dobbin said based on the national economy and other issues, it would be easy to reject the proposed ballot questions, but he realized that it could be a visionary step for the town. “When things turn around we’re going to be in a position to be bragging about the condition of our roads and our rec path. I would hope that would position Mt. Crested Butte in an area of being very unique. So others can say, ‘Look what the town of Mt. Crested Butte did when things weren’t all that good,’” Dobbin said.
Resident Bob Goettge also spoke in support of the plan, but asked the council to consider a slightly different use of some of the funds.
“It would take a long time to tell everybody how many good things I see in this plan,” Goettge said. He asked the council to consider using some of the money set aside in the plan for the proposed aquatic recreation center to provide a post office in town.
Goettge also asked the council to consider using the funds to create a public park on a 17-acre parcel owned by the town, adjacent to town hall. Goettge said he felt the recreation center was still many years from fruition. “In the near term we could do some things to develop the economy and provide some needed services,” he said.
Keiser said it was unlikely they would revise the plan they just finished, but said things may change in coming years. He said the $1 million set aside for the recreation center could be used for other things, as it was separate from the bond issue and would be included in the town’s general fund. Keiser said a post office was discussed, and the council was in favor of such an amenity, but they did not have a good idea of how much that would cost or where to put it, so it was left out of the plan.
Town manager Joe Fitzpatrick said the United States Postal Service had no plans to open any new post offices. “What we can do is, if the town builds a building, provides the maintenance, the lights, parking and access, and if we put the boxes in there, the postal service would deliver to that annex,” Fitzpatrick said, pointing out a similar facility at the entrance to Skyland.
Fitzpatrick said the town still needed to decide how big the annex should be and where it should go. One location could be Inn Site Two, also known as the “Rasta” free parking lot. Fitzpatrick said if the annex was built in the town center, the Downtown Development Authority might be able to provide funding for it. He said, “We’re fairly close to being able to do this.”
Fitzpatrick said the long-range goal would be to provide a full-service post office in the proposed North Village.
The 17-acre parcel next to town hall, Fitzpatrick said, could definitely be developed into park. But Fitzpatrick said CBMR was considering relocating the park around a reservoir that might be developed in North Village. “Given where (Crested Butte Mountain Resort) is with their plans for the North Village, a park in that location isn’t the best idea,” Fitzpatrick said of the 17-acre parcel. However, Fitzpatrick said the Planning Commission and Town Council have not officially seen any plans from CBMR showing the new park location.
The town also received a letter from the Gold Link Homeowners Association encouraging the development of the 17-acre park. Council member David Clayton said after reading the letter, he inspected the site and realized that if the reservoir proposed by CBMR is built in North Village, the logical place to stage construction would be on the parkland. “If we build it now, it will just be torn up later,” he said.
Fitzpatrick says another public presentation on the ballot issues is tentatively scheduled for October 7.