There are over 4,500 local government agencies in Colorado. Nearly 3,000 of those are special districts. All of these agencies and special districts are included under our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
Most voters wouldn’t be able to list off the top of their head all the local governments collecting property taxes from them either directly, or passed on to them as a percentage of rent by the property owner in the course of business. You might have a couple or even several of these governments charging you property taxes — lots of layers.
You can check your special districts using this Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) GIS map. It’s a great tool offering filters and layers so you get all the information. Click on the district map and you’ll get the annual levy rate and contact information for the district.
Why should you care?
Special districts, especially metropolitan districts, can amount to a sizable portion of your property tax bill. Just because you don’t directly write the check for the property taxes doesn’t mean you’re not footing part or all of the property tax tab. Tenants and consumers pay a portion of the property taxes in rent or included in the cost of the products they buy.
Some special districts, especially metropolitan districts, may rival the mill levy rate or dollar amount of school district property taxes — usually the most expensive item on your property tax bill.
The list of all Colorado Property Tax Entities 2022 Mill Levy Rates is found here. Some are nearly 100 mills!
This article by a title company provides an easy to digest real example of how that looks on a property tax bill.
Special district board elections
Special district elections are held at odd times of the year and may include board of director candidates or/and TABOR related elections. DOLA lays the details of the special district election process here.
Notable is that special district elections largely do not occur at the same time as November general elections when you’re accustomed to automatically getting a ballot. Instead, special district elections are commonly held in May of odd-years but could also be held in February, October, November, or December. See more detail about when their elections can occur here.
The next upcoming special district’s election in Colorado would be Tuesday, May 5, 2023. If the special district is not referring a TABOR issue (taxes or debt) to the voters, you are probably not going to get a ballot automatically mailed to you. You have the option to request that the district mail you an absentee ballot or you can vote in person at the district’s polling location. If you choose to participate in the election voting in person and have multiple special districts, you could be going to more than one location, e.g. your park and recreation district, plus fire district are holding elections
Your main contact for any ballot or election related questions is the Designated Election Official (not the Secretary of State). The district’s current board of directors will determine a Designated Election Official (DEO) to conduct the election from start to finish.
Reasons to pay attention to your special districts:
- The special district’s board of directors oversee the property taxes we’re required to pay. Communicating to district candidates that you support the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights puts them on notice that your right to government fiscal moderation is important to you as a voter and taxpayer.
- Special districts can also impact your life through regulation and the elected officials have the power of eminent domain.
- Special districts may reap the benefits of tax increment financing (TIF) where developers get to keep taxes that would otherwise go to other local governments.
- Special districts can create debt, sometimes even before there are other property owners. That debt saddles you with higher property taxes than other neighborhoods for potentially a long, long time.
- Special districts must comply with TABOR – sometimes that takes a watchdog. There are lawyers employed by public agencies (our tax dollars!) who specialize in finding ways to “navigate” TABOR.
Did voters in your special district unknowingly hand away some of their TABOR rights many years ago? Special districts don’t offer the option for citizen-initiated ballot measures. Only the board of directors could reinstate all limits and taxpayer protections found under TABOR. Maybe you can be the catalyst to spearhead that policy change?
You have time to run as a candidate and be printed on the ballot. It’s quite simple to get on the ballot. You’ll be required to fill out a self-nomination form and acceptance forms. This calendar chart is very helpful to get you up to speed on the process.
Candidate’s forms must be filed no later than Friday, February 24, 2023 to be printed on the ballot for the Tuesday, May 2, 2023 election. File the forms with the Designated Election Official – contact the special district to get the DEO’s contact information.
That’s a big handful of reasons to take the time to review your property tax bill or use the GIS map to figure out if you have special districts to watch out for. Get involved in the elections whether by running for office or even by just voting an absentee ballot.
If you’ve thought about running for local office but would like to get more details, check out the Independence Institute’s local government workshops headed up by Kathleen Chandler.
Natalie Menten is a long time political activist from Lakewood, TABOR Foundation Board Director, and a former elected director at the Regional Transportation District (RTD)
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