Western Slope Round Up: The Price for Growth Rises

Tax issues blanket the ballots in the upcoming November election across the Western Slope. Plus, town budgets are increasing and so are the building fees. It’s a sign of growing pains that only money can remedy.Aspen Loosens Its Belt
The largest budget in Aspen’s history will be approved by its council members soon -about $84 million for the town of nearly 6,000 residents and another 9,000 tourists.

Sure, Aspen is renown for its wealthy residents, but how long can they sustain a booming budget?

From the Aspen Times:

Next year’s operating budget could be as much as 11.7 percent more than 2007’s. That’s about $5 million more in expenses for next year, explained city Finance Director Paul Menter.

And total expenditure appropriations could be as much as 17 percent higher than in 2007 – amounting to $84 million in spending, which includes a proposed $47.2 million operating budget, $31 million in capital expenses and nearly $5.7 million to pay off debts.

“We are in an environment where we are seeing [an increase in] the levels of demand for services. … We are in a period of community growth,” Menter said.

The 2007 operating budget originally was estimated at $42.3 million. But with increased costs in the community development department related to the recent moratorium on development and in the engineering department related to construction, as well as a 5.3 percent increase in city payroll and a 4 percent increase in inflation, among other financial impacts, the bottom line increased nearly $2.7 million.

Menter said the proposed budget is “lean and mean,” and brought to the council and the public with no new increases in taxes. If there needs to be a shifting of money to pay for increased levels of service to the community, it would likely happen by reallocating revenue, he added.

Mayor Mick Ireland said that as he and his colleagues analyze the budget in detail during the next month, the question they must ask themselves is: “How can we sustain this growth?”

The increase in the capital budget includes $11 million for building affordable housing…isn’t that about five units?

Ouray County Eyes Use Tax for Roads
OURAY-Mountain roads are expensive to build and maintain and road material costs are skyrocketing, so some counties and towns must find other revenue sources to support their road and bridge departments. Two ballot questions concerning roads are before the county voters in Ouray County this November.

From the Ouray County News:

Question 1A seeks voter approval for a 3% use tax to be applied to construction materials over $20,000 and first-time vehicle registrations.

Question 1B seeks voter approval for authorization of indebtedness (loan, bond or other debt instrument) of not more than $2.5 million. Question 1B is dependent upon voter approval of the use tax and such funding will enable major capital improvements on the most heavily traveled roads in the county, as quickly as feasible, and provide additional maintenance revenue.

Working to educate voters about the proposals, Citizens for Better Roads (CBR) members noted that only about 5% of Ouray County’s property taxes go to roads.

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While the recent property revaluation will provide some increased revenue to the Road & Bridge budget, escalating operating expenses, such as fuel, equipment replacement, and expected decreases in road funds from the state and federal governments will more than likely offset the increased income.

The use tax is likely to reduce dependence on future increases in property taxes for increased road maintenance requirements and will fund repayment of the loan.

For those who have visited Ouray County, there is another challenge to fixing its roads–altitude. All the streets go up and up.

Photo by Leslie Robinson: Ouray County is at the base of Red Mountain Pass.

DeBrucing and Roads Highlight Routt County’s Ballot
If voters approve, Routt County will be able to deBruce its property taxes and raise $3.3 million dollars a year for road projects and other capital expenditures.

The Steamboat Pilot reports:

The increased revenues would fund improvements to 59 miles of county roads during the next six years. The deBrucing, however, would be permanent. And after six years, the revenue could be used for any number of capital projects.

To raise that amount of money, the county commissioners are asking to be allowed to assess taxes at a rate of 12.266 mills. The commissioners point out that the proposed mill levy is actually a decrease from this year’s mill levy of 12.420. However, it is a 32.9 percent hike from the 9.229 mill levy TABOR would require next year.

In 2008, the tax increase would mean an additional $25 a year per $100,000 of estimated market value for residential taxpayers and an additional $88 a year per $100,000 of estimated market value for commercial taxpayers.

Commercial property taxpayers take a much larger hit because the state property tax rate is 29 percent, compared to a 7.96 percent residential rate.

The towns of Yampa, Oak Creek, Hayden and Steamboat Springs will also share in the dividends since the county shares its property tax revenues, according to state statute.
Over 40 counties have deBruced. Too bad the state can’t.

More People Means More Health Needs
Craig’s hospital is supported by a tax district, so to build a new hospital, taxpayers must approve an increase in the mill levy. The planned 84,500 square foot facility will include 25 beds, operating rooms and a 10-room emergency department.

The Craig Daily Press noted:

The Committee for a New Hospital, a group of residents campaigning on behalf of The Memorial Hospital’s November tax initiative, will launch its campaign this week.

Local voters can expect to see committee members going door to door and distributing information regarding the hospital’s 3-mill total tax proposal.

The door-to-door visits are a primer for three public forums scheduled in the next 15 days. The campaign committee is seeking to get information into voters’ hands before the public forums, members said.

When it comes to health, how does one say “no?”

Planning Fees Spike for Builders
Mt. Crested Butte town council started to compare their fees for approving building plans and other planning functions with other resorts areas like Vail. Planning staff noted that they were spending much more employee resources than what the fees were covering.

Maybe it was time to revisit the fee structure from 1979.

From the Crested Butte News:

Community development administrative assistant Theresa Henry calculated the average cost to the town for a single-family design review is $681, and a multi-family building design review costs $1,415. The town currently charges a fee of $250 for design reviews plus $20 per unit on multi-family projects.

By comparison, Vail charges builders $650 for design reviews, Winter Park charges $1,000 plus $10 per unit, and Breckenridge charges over $3,600, according to Henry’s memo.

The proposed fee schedule would have multiple price points for design review, starting at $700 for single-family dwellings and $1,500 for multi-family buildings, plus an additional cost per unit.

Henry also calculated cost comparisons for several other areas of town planning. For instance, rezoning measures cost the town an average of $1,701 in labor and expenses, while the town charges builders and developers a fee of $100 plus $4 per unit. Steamboat charges $2,000 for rezoning, according to the memo. A fee of $1,700 has been proposed for rezoning.

Conditional use permits cost the town $1,571 while the town charges a fee of $75. A conditional use permit from Vail would cost $650. A fee of $500 has been proposed for conditional use permits.

Although there were no builders at the council meeting to discuss the fee changes, no doubt the town council will be hearing from them soon.