Carbondale property owners suffer tax sticker shock
A combination of two recent voter-approved tax increases and a resurgent real estate market that produced a big increase in property valuations last year is hitting Carbondale taxpayers with a triple whammy on their current tax bills.
That’s playing into the debate over two new tax proposals that are on the town’s April 5 mail ballot, including a brand new property tax levy to pay for capital improvements in the town.
Garfield County Treasurer Karla Bagley said that, since property tax notices went out in January, her office has dealt with an extraordinary number of calls and visits from Carbondale-area property owners in particular asking what’s up.
That’s because residential property tax bills increased in that part of the county anywhere from about 40 percent to more than 70 percent, according to some accounts.
“What we tell them is to look at their local tax breakdown that’s included on the tax notice, which shows where those taxes are going,” Bagley said.
By comparing the current breakdown to last year’s tax bill, it will show where the big increases were, she said.
Indeed, therein lies part of the answer, which has to do with the fact that voters last November approved two mill levy increases, one to pay for a $122 million Roaring Fork School District bond issue and another boosting operating revenues for the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.
The school district’s mill levy — the rate at which taxes are assessed against a property’s value — went from 42.149 to 46.3 after that vote. The fire district levy increased from 8.203 mills to 9.516.
Overall, school district taxes, including those designated for operating expenses and past voter-approved levies for special programs and facilities, account for well over half of the total tax bill in Carbondale.
Countywide, the amount going to school districts is 37 percent, according to the 2015 Abstract of Assessment and Tax Levies published by the Assessor’s Office.
Still, the vast majority of the property tax increase, not only for Carbondale-area taxpayers, but all across the county, had to do with a significant increase in residential property valuations over the last two years, County Assessor Jim Yellico said.
Residential property values in Garfield County went up 33.3 percent last year, while vacant land values increased 17.8 percent, according to the 2015 abstract.
In Carbondale, though, the assessed value for single-family homes went up about 40 percent on average, while residential condominiums saw about a 65 percent increase, Yellico said. Vacant land in the Carbondale area increased about 30 percent in value, while commercial property values rose a more modest 4 percent, he said.
“Those values are the lion’s share of why people’s tax bills went up,” Yellico said.
And, as real estate market prices continue to climb, that will continue to be the case, he noted.
The 2015 assessed valuations were based on values as of June 30, 2014. The next reassessment year, 2017, will be based on values as of this coming June, and home sales prices have only continued to go up since 2014.
The combination of increased valuations and the Roaring Fork School District bond levy is also hitting Glenwood Springs-area taxpayers with a sizable tax bill increase.
But different factors are at play in different taxing jurisdictions, Yellico also explained.
For instance, while the school district tax rate went up 4.2 mills, property owners in the West Glenwood Sanitation District saw 5 mills disappear from their tax bill because that district just retired a previous bond issue.
In Carbondale, the “back-door increase” caused by assessed values going up, coupled with the two recent voter-approved tax increases, is being cited by those opposed to a 3-mill increase in the town’s property tax that’s on the ballot. The extra levy would generate about $425,000 annually to pay for capital improvements, such as street work, sidewalks, bike and pedestrian trails and infrastructure improvements associated with affordable housing development.
“This is just not the right time to further burden property owners with additional taxes, especially after last year’s increases from the school and fire districts,” according to a comment opposed to the new tax that’s included in the town’s pro-and-con statement for that and one other tax proposal that’s on the April 5 ballot.
In addition, town voters are being asked whether to levy an extra tax on electric and natural gas utility bills to fund programs aimed at increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy in Carbondale. Those critical of the so-called “Climate Action Tax” have also cited the recent property tax increases in arguing against the measure.
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