County Commissioners promote road tax increase

Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 11:42 PM

Ignacio trustees received a presentation on Aug. 17 from County Commissioners Julie Westendorff and Gwen Lachelt, and Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina, on the county ballot measure 1A seeking voter approval for a 2.4 mill increase in property taxes to fund road and bridge maintenance and projects.

The same ballot issue lost by 491 votes in 2015, Lachelt said.

Westendorff added, "One of the things we heard from people last year after it failed was, 'If we knew what you were going to do with the money, we would have voted different.'" They now have handout cards listing priority projects around the county. Without the increase, she said, "in 2017 there won't be enough money to even maintain the roads adequately."

Westendorff said the county's road and bridge needs list totals around $60 million, but that was scaled back to the $35 or $40 million that the tax increase will bring in over 10 years.

The tax increase request is because of the big decrease in oil and gas assessed valuations and property tax revenue since 2010.

La Plata County has the fourth lowest property tax rate (total 8.5 mills with 0.71 of that to roads and bridges) among Colorado counties, Lachelt said.

"The oil and gas revenue was like having a 60-percent off coupon at the store, and that coupon has expired," she said.

Westendorff said county officials have looked at other options to fund roads and bridges, but none of those would "take a big bite out of the need, versus the mill levy."

"A 20-year asphalt job lasts 20 years if you don't do anything to it," she said. "With chip seal every few years, it will last much longer. ... All three commissioners (the other is Brad Blake) are on board with this. We decided to put it on the ballot this year because we can't wait."

The increase would sunset after 10 years without another voter approval.

By state law, some of the new tax money must be shared with the towns. Westendorff said Ignacio would get around $8,600 in the first year.

Lachelt said the tax increase will bring in around $4.4 million in 2017, minus the amount that goes to the towns.