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BoCC unveils ballot issue details

Tuesday evening’s work session to discuss the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioner’s proposed roads-specific mill levy was conspicuously short on support for the measure.

The BoCC and county staff also unveiled potential mill levy amounts and durations for the levy at the meeting, which about 20 members of the public attended.

County staff proposed a mill levy of either 5, 10 or 15 mills, with a duration of 10 years — stating that both the number of mills and duration of the levy are subject to change based on the will of the BoCC.

In presenting the proposed levies, County Administrator Greg Schulte estimated that 5 mills would generate $1.62 million in annual revenue, 10 mills would generate $3.24 million, and 15 mills would provide $4.85 million.

Schulte said that, for homes valued at $200,000, each mill for a residential property would cost roughly $16 per year, while for nonresidential properties, each mill would cost about $58 per year.

Schulte said an estimated $7.6 million a year is needed to bring the county roads up to par based on the five-year road plan currently in production.

Current road funding

At present, Archuleta County road work is funded through a combination of sources.

Of the 18.345 mills the county currently levies for all purposes, including purposes required by statute, 1.693 mills is appropriated for roads — in 2011, the 1.693 mills totaled $718,000.

One percent of the county’s 6.9 percent sales tax is for roads and is restricted to capital expenditures. Of the 6.9 percent, 2.9 percent is a state sales tax, while the remaining 4 percent is split between the county and town, with the county’s portion further being split between roads and the county’s General Fund.

Highway User Tax Funding is a fuel tax collected by the state that is apportioned to counties based on lane miles and other roads-related factors. In 2011, the county collected $1.5 million through the HUTF.

In Tuesday’s presentation, Schulte noted that the portion of HUTF funding the county receives has not increased since 1992.

An additional funding source for roads has been the county’s 1A funding — a five-year “de-Brucing” initiative that allowed the county to keep revenue above TABOR-imposed limits.

The 1A ballot measure will sunset at the end of 2011, with 2012 being the final year the county will collect revenue from the voter-approved measure.

The 1A funding was appropriated by the BoCC in four categories each year — roads, facilities, technology and training, and parks and recreation.

Between 2008 and 2011, $3.205 million was appropriated to roads from 1A, with $3.153 million spent.

County staff anticipates that, due to a decline in property valuations and expected decline in property tax revenues in 2012, the county will only receive up to $300,000 to split between the 1A categories.

The county has about 275 miles of county-maintained roads.

The ballot measure

The draft language of the ballot measure and resolution handed out at Tuesday’s meeting proposed levying 15 mills for the next 10 years, with the revenue spent in accordance with the five-year road plan being created by consulting firm Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc.

According to SEH’s preliminary figures, over $7.65 million would be needed on an annual basis to accomplish needed improvement and maintenance to county roads. Routine maintenance such as grading, snow plowing and weed cutting are not included in the estimate.

The ballot language includes the $4.85 million annual figure for the 15 mills proposed, as well as an associated de-Brucing measure to allow the county to keep the revenues.

Also in the ballot language is a statement that 50 percent of the revenue from the increase would be given to the Town of Pagosa Springs for road projects, as required by law.

The remaining funding would, then, “FUND ROAD CONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE PROJECTS IN THE ARCHULETA COUNTY ADOPTED 5 YEAR ROAD IMPROVEMENT PLAN.”

According to the draft ballot language, the county has until Dec. 31, 2022, to spend the tax revenue generated by the mill levy increase, at which point any unspent revenue would be returned to the taxpayers.

Schulte said the extra year would allow for ongoing projects to be finished and to allow for any construction delays.

Before allowing public comment at the meeting, Commissioner Clifford Lucero noted his belief that the BoCC has a specific plan to direct the spending of the money, referring to the five-year road plan.

Lucero also indicated he is not in favor of a 10-year length on the mill levy increase.

“I think ten years is too long, but I’m just one commissioner,” Lucero said, adding that he thinks the county should ask for the funding for five or six years and continue to build trust with taxpayers before asking for an increase for a longer period of time.

Public reaction

When the floor was opened to public comment, many in the audience opposed any tax increase in the current economy that isn’t imposed by voters in a specific community of interest or neighborhood (such as through improvement or metropolitan districts) and noted that many county residents currently tax themselves via such districts to fund roadwork in their areas.

Some who spoke voiced the opinion that 10 years was too long a period for the levy of the additional mills.

Audience member, and former county commissioner, Bill Downey was the first to open the subject of improvement districts, stating that some area residents are happy with the quality of their roads and others would receive no added benefit from the increased levy.

Downey suggested the county provide work on main roads and stop working on roads within residential subdivisions.

Ronnie Zaday, an Aspen Springs resident and former county commissioner, said Aspen Springs voters chose to tax themselves to provide the quality of roads they desired, and said she didn’t anticipate a vote in favor of the ballot measure by many Aspen Springs residents.

“To go fifteen mills, I don’t see it happening, gentlemen,” Zaday said.

Lucero noted that voters need to speak “loud and clear” about the direction they want the county to take.

Like Downey, Andy Donlon advocated that the county focus on taking care of main roads.

Other attendees voiced their concern over how the additional levy would affect local business, since commercial properties are taxed at a higher rate than residential properties.

River Center owner Marilyn Bunch said vacancies in the center are already difficult to fill with the current economy and said higher taxes would make matters more difficult.

Glenn Walsh noted that some businesses may be driven to other communities to avoid the high mills, especially if both county and school proposed mill levy increases are approved.

Parelli Natural Horsemanship President Mark Weiler said an increase of 15 mills would equate to about $36,000 in new taxes between the Parelli headquarters and campus properties.

Other audience members noted they would not vote in favor of an additional tax without a firm improvement and maintenance plan for the county roads.

Next steps

Having heard some public comment on the matter, the BoCC now has until 9 a.m. on Aug. 31, to finalize the ballot language, at which time they have a special meeting scheduled to approve that language. Public comment will also be taken at the Aug. 31 meeting.

The BoCC is expected to approve the ballot language via resolution, with the resolution certifying the ballot questions due to the county clerk by Sept. 2.

Following the certification of ballot questions, pros and cons will be sought for each measure between Sept. 8 and Sept. 19, with the pros and cons submitted to the county clerk on Sept. 20.

A draft of the ballot resolution and language is available at www.pagosasun.com.

randi@pagosasun.com

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