Exclusives, Local, Natalie Menten, Proposition HH, TABOR, Taxes, Uncategorized

Menten: Local governments can lower property taxes on their own

Whether the hideous hoax Proposition HH passes or fails at Colorado’s November ballot, local governments including towns, cities, special districts, and schools must lower their 2023 mill levy this fall to avoid taxpayer suffering in January 2024 when tax bills are sent out.

In each Colorado local government, there are elected members. Those local elected representatives set and vote on the mill levy for their respective districts in October or November each year. When the elected bodies meet to set the mill rate, they take public comment. I would suggest reaching out to your elected representatives before the meeting. After the body votes, they notify the county assessor of the tax rate by December 15, 2023 and that’s what gets charged on the January 2024 property tax bill.

A moral obligation

Nothing stops these local governments from lowering the mill, and refusing to lower the tax rate is to purposefully do financial harm to residents. Such an action or perhaps – inaction, should be a reason for recall from office. Local elected officials should not dare to suggest they support affordable housing if they won’t lower the local property tax rate. School districts can also create tax relief assuming they have a rate higher than 27 mills. In Jefferson County and two other districts I surveyed, taxpayers are being charged far higher than that (E.g. +40 mill or more).

Property owners are facing shocking 30-70% tax increases in 2024. That harsh and unnecessary tax hike doesn’t stop at the property owner, it gets passed on to consumers and tenants.

Just because your property value went up 40% doesn’t mean your local government should get a huge bonus that creates financial distress, or leads to tax liens when people can’t pay the property tax bill.

Politicians who think government should benefit from taxpayer hardship when they have an option for relief aren’t fit to hold office.

This property tax issue isn’t new. The political lawyers have fought off recent citizen initiatives to cap property taxes. The state bill sponsors spewed up Proposition HH at the last minute, attempting to corner us with no alternative. Cutting off testimony during the rushed bill’s passage to put it on the ballot speaks deeply to their disrespect for taxpayers and voters. There is an alternative.

Proposition HH is a hideous hoax, intent on taking our Taxpayer’s Bill of Right’s (TABOR) refunds. Buried in Prop HH there are carve-outs and an optional local property tax “soft cap”. The soft cap means the local government elected body just has to hold a meeting, hear public comments, and they can waive the limit. Proposition HH is a useless measure when it comes to providing relief and they want our TABOR refunds to boot! Polis and the bill sponsors should be ashamed.

School districts the biggest line item

I want to expand on the public school district’s responsibility to take action. The most expensive line item on my property taxes is the school district and I’m already not pleased about that. In light of the upcoming drastic property tax spike on the January 2024 tax bill, I go from “not pleased” to extremely upset.

First, like many school districts in Colorado, taxpayers forfeited (many unknowingly) the tax revenue caps included in the TABOR. The elimination of the revenue cap should have been limited to a four-year period with voter approval required for any extension. Due to an absolutely incorrect legal interpretation by the court system, we got screwed out of that limited period. The author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights has confirmed the four-year requirement time after time. This is not a question.

Second, Jefferson County has declining school enrollment over the last several years, also like many other districts. Yet the school tax assessment on my residential property tax bill hasn’t been reduced. Plus, we must pay property taxes on cars, trucks, and trailers each year called the “Specific Ownership Tax” (SOT) which a large portion goes to schools.  Jeffco public schools gets over $40 million a year from the SOT charged on annual vehicle registrations. While I’m referencing Jefferson County, this tax is present in all counties.

School taxes are somewhat regulated by state law with a minimum “floor” mill levy. Generally, that’s 27 mills or less, so they must take that from our pockets based on current law. The funding formula is laid out in the Public School Finance Act. There’s this persistent but untrue philosophy that we can’t lower school taxes. The real story is that many, many school districts have additional mill overrides so the districts collect property taxes for more than 27 mills. After much research and consultations with experts I found nothing to prohibit a mill reduction. I took it one step further.

Using our Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) I submitted my question about lowering the mill to three school districts so I could get an answer from the horse’s mouth. I figured since the taxpayers are on the top of every government’s organizational chart like a boss, I might get an answer to my simple question. HA! Jokes on me, I guess.  The questions and responses are as follows:

Jefferson County R1 School District:

Q: The Jeffco School District general fund mill levy is 40.227 (this includes a 13.227 mill override). Is there any Colorado law or board resolution which would legally prevent the school district from lowering the levy to 27 mill?

A:  “It would be best for you to consult with a lawyer or tax professional about the laws that govern mill levies in Colorado.”

Denver Public Schools (DPS):

Q: DPS appears to have a total 50.32 mill based upon the Finance & Audit Committee August 2022 report. Split out: 27 mill – School Finance Act, 11.263 mill – Override, 1.517 mill – Special Revenue Fund, 10.113 mill – Bond Fun, 0.427 Abatement. Is there any law to prevent the Denver school board from lowering the 11.263 override mill levy? Is there any law to prevent the school board from lowering the 0.427 Abatement levy or the 1.517 Special Revenue Fund levy? Please cite any such law, resolution, or other legal basis.

A:The Colorado Open Records Act only makes available public written information that already exists. It does not require the creation of new records to respond to a request. It also does not require the district to manipulate or analyze existing information in a new way to respond to a request. If you would like to resend your request in the form of a document request, we will begin the CORA process.” (zero answer here).

Douglas County School District:

Q: Douglas County appears to have a 36.136 mill levy – excluding the additional 6.7 debt levy which bring the total to 42.836 mill. What state law or board resolution would prevent the school board from lowering the 36.136 levy to 27 mill? Please cite specifics if referring to CRS or school board actions.

A: The information requested below can be found on our website under Board Policies and Resolutions/ 12.13.22 Resolution. The 27 mills is the School Finance Portion only. The District has 5 Mill Levy Override voter approved levies totaling 9.05, plus an Abatement levy of .086.  The DCSD policies and resolutions are attached to this email.

The problem is that I’m not exactly sure if they know the answer and won’t respond to my question, or they have never conceived and discussed this question.

Taking action

It’s up to us to defeat Prop HH and we have our work cut out for us in light of the deceptive Proposition HH language that State Representatives Chris Kennedy and Mike Weissman,  State Senators Chris Hansen and Steve Fenberg, and Governor Polis hustled on to the ballot to hijack and eliminate our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

That’s up to each of us to take time to email at least a couple of local elected bodies on your property tax bill and get them to act now. It is morally unjustifiable if they don’t take action.

You can also watch this video on ways to lower your property taxes.

Natalie Menten has been an activist in Jefferson County for over 20 years focusing on state and local public policy.  She is a former elected RTD boardmember and sits on the board of directors for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Foundation. Contact Natalie at Coloradoengaged@gmail.com.


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