Where property tax dollars go

To the editor,

It’s the end of January, the time of year when you receive that dreaded property tax bill from the La Plata County Treasurer. “Legalized stealing,” my father tells me. The government forces you to pay money for things you don’t use or like; things such as “liberal government waste and fraud,” as some taxpayers have written to me. But then there are other taxpayers who actually believe that paying taxes is the right and moral thing to do; they are actually happy to pay their taxes. So how do we reconcile these two views?

I think the first step is to understand how property taxes come to be in La Plata County, and what those dollars are used for. NOTE: ALL property taxes collected in La Plata County stay in La Plata County. They get recirculated to other entities, such as school districts, fire districts and business improvement districts.

A quarter of a century ago, Colorado voters created the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). It’s a complicated law, but a big piece of it is this: voters decide when taxes will be increased and what those dollars will be used for, not state legislators, not local County Commissioners. You decide.

There are also “Special Districts,” government entities that have been created to provide public services to a cer- tain area. Examples include water and sanitation districts, mosquito control districts, and library districts. Colorado state law does not allow these districts to duplicate county services, otherwise there would be “double taxa- tion” – something our country abhors! But this is also why your tax bill is different from your friend’s tax bill who lives in a different part of the county but has essentially the same property value as you do.

In Bayfield, for example, a taxpayer has a mill levy of 44.734 and an actual property value of $279,100. For residential property, the assessed value is derived by multi- plying the actual property value by 7.96 percent ($279,100 x .0796 = $22,220). To get to the total tax owed, multiply the assessed value by the mill levy: ($22,220 x .044734 = $994.)

Let’s see how this $994 is distributed. You might assume it all goes to La Plata County, because the La Plata County Treasurer collects it all. But, no. The La Plata County General Fund gets 7.41 mills of the 44.734 mills, or $164.67. The Road and Bridge fund gets .71 mills, for a total of $15.78. Yes, the people who own this property only pay $15.78 a year to help maintain and snowplow roads in La Plata County. Pretty good deal for ensuring you can get to work or to the grocery store, or that the police and fire departments can get to you in an emergency.

Now let’s look at how much of these 2015 tax dollars went to schools in Bayfield: 21.16 mills, or $470.20, almost 50 percent of the property tax. But that was last year. This year, because voters in Bayfield approved a bond issue in November, that will increase to 32.48 mills. So this owner’s tax bill will go up by 11.32 mills. Thus this property owner can expect a tax increase, with all that additional money going to the local school district – none of it to county services.

The “Special Districts” in this example include the Pine River Cemetery and Pine River Library, as well as the Upper Pine River Fire District. Special districts all have boards of directors, which the residents and property owners in these districts vote for. Public meetings are held, so the people who pay taxes to these special districts have a voice in what services are provided and how much they pay for these services. If you do not live in Bayfield, you will not be paying for these services.

But you might be paying for the “Three Springs Metro District” if you live in Three Springs, or the “Durango School District” if you live in Durango. This is why tax bills are different across La Plata County.

As a reminder, last year the Treasurer’s Office implemented new ways to pay your taxes. You can pay by debit card or ACH at the County’s website (http://laplata- county.org), or e-check through your bank with no charge to you or the County. You can also pay by credit card (a 2.19 percent convenience fee will be added, which goes to the credit card provider, not the County). You can also mail your check to the County’s bank directly to a PO Box in Denver. All of these methods have additional safeguards, allowing us to protect your money better. You will notice a new feature on your tax bill this year, a scan line in the lower right corner of the coupon. This allows us to reduce the cost of processing your tax payment, helping the County save money.

– Allison Aichele, La Plata County Treasurer