2016

3 February 2016: It’s hard to compare counties’ tax rates

In his January 20th letter, Tim Wheeler states I suggested he fabricated his mill levy figures. In fact, in my January 13th column I wrote his claim was “unsubstantiated,” which is considerably different. In a serious debate, it is critical to use accurate language not only to facilitate the understanding of the observers but also to lend credibility to the debater’s position.

Wheeler states that in 2014 Clear Creek County’s levy was 65.61. That simply was not the case. The county’s 2014 mill levy was 26.516, which included a temporary tax credit. The aggregate total I paid the treasurer was 69.499 mills. But keep in mind that aggregate total was the sum of ten separate districts or bonds, which I listed in that column.

The problem with comparing my tax bill with another’s is like comparing fruit salads that share some of the same fruits but with others added. That is true in context of both locales within Clear Creek County and how Clear Creek compares to other counties. It’s comparing apples to oranges to grapefruit and peaches and the mx of how they are thrown together.

Since I live in Georgetown, the county collects the town’s road and bridge taxes. But those not living in Georgetown obviously don’t pay those taxes but might be paying others. Within Clear Creek we the people agreed to tax ourselves to support education, literacy, and good health and to preserve open space. Accordingly, the county serves as a clearinghouse of sort, collecting all the taxes and then disbursing them. It simplifies the process for taxpayers and recipients.

Other counties have seen fit to allocate their resources based upon their needs. So the only fair way to compare county tax loads is to compare what they assess themselves for their general fund. All other entities and bonds are extraneous to the debate.

Another problem of comparing counties is the circumstances of each are different. To compare Clear Creek to any flatland county is illogical because of our vastly different locations, terrains, and climates. Denver does not need to be concerned with plowing and maintaining dirt roads that can reach treeline. In addition, Clear Creek enjoys far greater snowfall and experiences colder temperatures as well as other climatological variations.

In addition, the descriptor “remote” is not applicable to Denver because there are no remote locations. Nor do Denver’s work crews need to leave the county in order to access another part. In Clear Creek, they do. The eastern King Murphy Elementary School area can only be accessed by driving through Jefferson County. That leads to additional fuel, maintenance, and labor costs.

On the day I read Wheeler’s letter, I happened to get my property tax notice for 2015, which again was quite telling. This time the county’s mill levy is 27.516, which means the tax credit went away. My total contribution to the county has risen by $90.93, which is partially due to the one-mill increase. The balance is the result of the assessed value of my house and property going up by $34,240. What is critical to keep in mind is that of the $1326.74 I will pay the treasurer, only $517.15, or about 39 percent of the bill, will be my contribution for all the services I get from the county. That equates to $43.08 a month or $1.43 a day. A screaming deal.

But since we’re on it, perhaps we should talk about why those who live in the more populated regions have to subsidize those living in remote places, places such as York Gulch, which is accessed by a steep dirt road that requires ongoing maintenance. And the good people in Clear Creek that are part of the Evergreen Fire District must wonder why they are subsidizing fire protection for the rest of us. Actually, I and they don’t mind because we understand and value the nature of community: We’re all neighbors and friends.

A practice of anti-government zealots is to dissemble facts in order to make their case. They do so because their purpose is not to find pragmatic solutions, but to advance a cause, in this case, drown government in a bathtub.

For all we enjoy in the quality of our lives up here, what we’ve been paying has been a steal thanks to the Henderson Mine, which is going away. That’s a challenge, one that requires our attention and best-thinking. I am confident we’ll weather this and come out stronger. We are, after all, tough-skinned and tough-minded mountain folks. We’re Clear Creekers.

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