From the Watch (Tanya Ishikawa):
Property owners in 15 Western Slope counties could be asked to pay an average of $7.65 more in annual property taxes to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, if its board votes to place the question on the November ballot. District general manager Andy Mueller has proposed the property tax increase to make up for declining funding and create a new pot of money for water supply projects developed by local partners in each county.
“The money would help us with structural deficits caused by Gallagher, TABOR and the decline of the fossil fuel industry in the district,” Mueller said…
To address declining funding, the district eliminated a grant program for small projects and reduced expenses by cutting staff by 16 percent, which was four employees. Thevehicle fleet was also cut by 25 percent and the travel budget by 20 percent…
Mueller is recommending the district ask for an increase in property taxes from the current 0.252 mills to 0.500 mills, as well as exempting the spending limits from the TABOR law. The district’s property tax revenues, which were $4.1 million in 2018, would increase to approximately $9 million if voters passed the ballot measure.
The median home value would see an annual district property tax increase from $6.03 to $11.96. For homes valued at $300,000, district taxes would go from about $5 to $10 per year.
Marti Whitmore, who is Ouray County’s representative on the district’s board, said, “I tend to believe that this is a very reasonable proposal. On my house, it would result in a tax increase of less than $11 per year. I think it is important for the river district to be able to have funds to assist Western Slope communities in developing and ensuring adequate water supplies for all uses—agriculture, municipal, commercial/industrial — as well as non-consumptive uses such as recreation, fishing, boating or rafting, and so on. We will benefit from this increased support from the river district in Ouray County.”
Mueller is recommending that 20 percent of the property tax increase go toward remedying budget shortfalls for staffing and operations. His proposal is for the other 80 percent to fund projects through partnerships primarily with local governments and water users groups that manage agricultural irrigation supplies.
“We are looking for projects where we can partner with multiple sectors of the community; agricultural, municipal, recreation and others to find projects that work well for all of them,” he explained. “We have identified projects that have those types of attributes in all 15 of our counties to help the communities become more resilient in times of change.”
He said one good use of the new project fund would be a water storage or augmentation plan in Ouray County, which proposes building the Ram’s Horn Reservoir in the Uncompahgre National Forest in the Cimarron Mountains and a pipeline from Cow Creek to Ridgway Reservoir. The project would take much more than the estimated $80,000 per year in property taxes that would come from Ouray County if the ballot measure passes…
The district board, which is made up of one appointed representative from each of its 15 counties, heard the property tax proposal at its January meeting but took no action. The board asked staff to bring more information to its next quarterly meeting on April 21-22, where the board is likely to vote on whether to put the question on this November’s ballot. The meeting will be at the Colorado River District building at 201 Centennial St. in Glenwood Springs, and is open to the public.