2023 Leg Session, Featured, Greeley, Original Report, Sherrie Peif, Weld County

Greeley superintendent ‘very disappointed’ with Polis’ call for local property tax relief

GREELEY — It appears Gov. Jared Polis’ request to local governments and school districts to lower their mill levies in the wake of nearly a 40 percent increase in home valuations isn’t being applauded by everyone, with one superintendent accusing the governor of placing the burden on the backs of her students.

The superintendent of the state’s 12th largest school district, Greeley-Evans School District 6, with more than 22,000 students sent an email to her board almost immediately following Polis’ email to them.

“I am very disappointed our Governor proposed us lowering property tax burdens on the back of K-12 without any relief for this reduction,” said Deirdre Pilch in an email to the board and her administrative cabinet.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, Greeley currently has the 13th-largest total amount of mills assessed to property owners. A certain amount of a district’s mills cannot be reduced under state law, that is considered the “total program” mills. In Greeley that amounts to 27 of the 51.263 charged to property owners, and another 13.266 mills go toward the payoff of a $395 million bond issue from 2019. However, 10 mills stem from a mill levy override (MLO) voters recently extended for another 10 years. Those mills could be reduced.

Greeley-Evans School Board member Taylor Sullivan and fellow board member Rob Norwood were the only two members of the seven-member board that voted not to send the question to voters in 2022.

Pushing back on Gov. Polis

“This recommendation from the Governor, if implemented, could have significant implications for our services to students and support of our staff,” Pilch’s email said. “Measures have already been taken to lower the assessed valuation and to lower the property tax rate.  Both of these will decrease revenue to District 6, so this additional ask from the Governor would have additional significant implications for District 6.”

Pilch told Complete Colorado that she is still waiting on the final numbers from the county assessor, but the 2023-24 budget was built on projections from last August, and that will not be realized with the new legislation.

“This is a decrease in projected revenue,” Pilch said. “The backfill the Governor promises is for reduced tax collections statewide. It applies only to funding through the School Finance Act. It would not apply to our local mill levy override and the reduction in local collection.”

Pilch said although many areas of the state saw as much as a 40 percent increase in property valuations, the increase in District 6 “is far less.”

“Our estimated increase is projected to be 9% with the recent legislative changes,” Pilch said. “Due to inflation, our costs for things like services, goods, fuel, and equipment have increased significantly.”

However, Weld County Assessor Brenda Dones told Complete Colorado that for District 6 the 2022 gross assessed value (from a December 2022 Certified Letter) was $2,711,194,710. The 2023 gross assessed value (from an August 2023 Certified Letter) was $3,234,834,820, making the increase of gross assessed value 19.3 percent, more than double Pilch’s estimate.

When the assessor’s office calculated an estimate of what Proposition HH would have done to those values had it passed, the percentage increase dropped to 18.45 percent. Dones said that although her estimate is just an estimate, the legislation enacted during the special session was very similar to HH.

“We will send out final data between December 13 and December 15 and that will include all changes to value from the special session and only then will we know an exact percentage change,” Dones said.

Pilch said she is hopeful the governor will hold true to his promise to eliminate what is known as the Budget Stabilization (BS) Factor, which is a formula used by the state to decrease the amount the state is required to give to K-12 education, it’s not promised, and the mills afforded District 6 amount to millions.

“Each mill generates just under $3 million dollars in revenue for the district,” Pilch said. “Projections from August, show that with the changes made in legislation, the additional revenue generated from the 10 mills of our MLO is approximately $2.4 million. The reduction of the MLO by just 1 mill generates less revenue than the year before.”

Local governments offer some relief

Ann Terry, executive director of the Special District Association of Colorado, told Colorado Politics that reducing mill levies is common for governments, saying that more than 400 special districts have implemented temporary mill levy reductions over the past decade. “They already know how to reduce or ‘float’ mill levies,” Terry told Colorado Politics. “This is not a new process.”

Several taxing entities have already made the announcement they plan to reduce either mill levy amounts or the assessments.

Colorado Mountain College, which has campuses in Breckenridge, Eagle, Garfield, Lake, Pitkin, Summit, and Routt is reducing its mill levy to keep its revenue growth near the 5.7 percent inflation mark.

Douglas County is reducing assessments by 4 percent while Teller County will cap its increase somewhere between 4 and 6 percent.

St. Vrain Valley School District spokesperson Kerri McDermid told the Longmont Leader that SVVSD will not be considering a reduction because the district is unable to evaluate its budget without real numbers for assessed valuation, which she said won’t come until 2024.

Pilch plans to have the district’s chief financial officer present budget implications to the board, “very soon,” her email read.

“We will need to have a significant conversation about this and the implications to our students, families, and staff,” Pilch’s email read.


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