The ballot language for an Archuleta County road-specific mill levy has been certified, with an eye toward a possible future in which improvement and metro districts are formed to maintain subdivision roads.
On the November mail ballot, Archuleta County will ask for a road-specific mill levy increase of 7 mills for a duration of four years, with the associated de-Brucing figure to allow the county to collect the revenue that exceeds TABOR limits.
Additionally, 50 percent of the proceeds collected from the town and any metro or improvement districts will be paid back to each entity.
The ballot language certified Tuesday proposed to spent the approximately $2.26 million collected annually (based on 2012 property value estimates) in accordance with the five-year road plan being created by consulting firm Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc. (SEH).
The remaining funding would, then, “FUND ROAD CONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE PROJECTS IN THE ARCHULETA COUNTY ADOPTED 5 YEAR ROAD IMPROVEMENT PLAN.”
According to SEH’s preliminary figures, over $7.65 million would be needed on an annual basis to accomplish needed improvement and maintenance on county roads. Routine maintenance such as grading, snow plowing and weed cutting are not included in the estimate.
If approved by the voters, the county would have one additional year beyond the four years in the question to spend the money (to account for any ongoing or delayed projects), or the money would be refunded to the taxpayers through a credit on the 2017 mill levy.
County Attorney Todd Starr said he wrote the ballot language, then had prominent ballot language attorney Mark Grueskin, of Heizer Paul Grueskin LLP, review the language.
At a previous public meeting, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners presented a range of anywhere between 5 and 15 mills for the proposal, with a duration of up to 10 years.
The first motion made at Wednesday’s meeting proposed 7 mills for a duration of five years and was called a “stopgap measure” by Commissioner Steve Wadley, who is a proponent of residents maintaining their own roads via districts.
Many of the audience members who spoke at the meeting thanked the commissioners for listening to previous public comment and amending their proposal.
Most of the audience members who spoke about the ballot measure indicated they believed five years was too long of a duration, suggesting two or three years, and that the county should push for the creation of improvement districts to maintain secondary roads.
One of those suggesting a two-year duration, Glenn Walsh, said a longer span of a mill levy would not provide the same leadership and advocacy pushing citizens to form districts.
“We’re not a third-world country where children breastfeed until they’re five years old,” Walsh said, indicating that citizens would have to be weaned off the county’s maintenance of secondary roads sooner.
Audience member Bob Clinkenbeard questioned the resolution’s language of “APPROXIMATELY 7.0 MILLS,” asking if that gave county staff “wiggle room” to change the exact mill levy.
Starr responded that the language was firm at 7.0 mills in the ballot language and the county does not have wiggle room.
Some audience members suggested that the county needed a firm plan to guide the expenditure of the tax revenues.
Audience member Mark Weiler said the commissioners need beginning-, middle- and end-game plans and that the middle and end plans appeared to be missing.
Weiler said the BoCC was, “asking constituents to increase their tax burden without a clear objective.”
Other audience members suggested that the county needed to compile and make publicly available more information about the various types of improvement districts and how to form a district.
Despite suggestions from the audience of a two-year duration, Wadley withdrew his first motion and made a second motion amending the duration to four years — one he thought would allow for enough time for districts to be formed.
With the change, Starr indicated that the county’s five-year plan in the works may have to be amended in the future to reflect movement toward improvement districts.
The motion passed 2-0. Commissioner Michael Whiting was absent from the meeting due to a geothermal-related trip to Germany.
Multiple district structures are available to levy taxes in order to improve communities, in this case communities defined by location or neighborhood.
In the meeting, Starr pointed out that each type has its own formation requirements and process, and that citizens would have to be diligent in determining the correct structure for their area or neighborhood.
“It’s not an easy, overnight process. It’s going to require some thought and care,” Starr said.
In a handout provided to the BoCC from Starr, three types of districts are briefly summarized.
According to the handout, Public Improvement Districts (also known as General Improvement Districts) are formed for installing or acquiring any public improvement through a mill levy tax.
Local Improvement Districts are formed to construct improvements, with the cost of the improvements assessed on the properties benefitted by the improvements.
Metro districts are used, according to the handout, “by real-estate developers to publicly finance improvements such as infrastructure and amenities within the community.” Often, bonds are issued, with a mill levy funding the repayment of the bonds. Metro districts are also more flexible.
If the ballot measure passes and a district is formed during the four years the measure is in effect, Starr indicated that district would be eligible to receive 50 percent of the funding collected from that district.
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 a previous 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.
Now that the ballot language has been certified, 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.
The full text of the resolution and ballot language will be available at www.pagosasun.com.