Final property tax numbers from the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office show that the real and assessed property values jumped 45 percent in the city of Aspen and 41 percent in Pitkin County as a whole in one year.

By Jim Curtis, Aug 14, 2007 Aspen Daily News

The total actual, or market value, of Pitkin County property in 2007 is $26.2 billion. The assessed, or taxable value, of all property is $2.7 billion.

The assessor’s office first announced the historic jump in property values in the spring. In all, officials said 2,119 residents protested the valuation of their property and subsequent tax bill, claiming the values were too high.

The protests set off a process where first the assessor’s office and then the county Board of Equalization reassessed the value of the properties that protested.

The assessor’s office shaved $399 million of actual value and $45 million of assessed value from its original calculations. Three hundred and eighty-five people still not satisfied with the reassessment protested their case to the Board of Equalization, which lowered valuations an additional $85 million in real value and $15 million in assessed value

Property taxes are based on the assessed property values. In the city of Aspen, 13 taxing districts — including the school district, the fire department, the sanitation district and the historical society — collect a mill levy, which is the dollar amount a government entity can collect per $1,000 of assessed value

Some of those mill levies float, adjusting up or down to meet the requirements of TABOR, a state law that limits the amount of tax revenue government can collect based on population growth and inflation

But 18 different taxing districts throughout Pitkin County have received voter approval to be exempt from TABOR. This allows the taxing districts to set a fixed mill levy rate and collect as much revenue as that rate entitles them to. As such, revenues go up or down with property values

The TABOR exempt districts include: the city of Aspen, the town of Snowmass Village, the Aspen Historic Society, Colorado Mountain College, Pitkin County open space and trails, the Snowmass water and sanitation district and fire protection districts in Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt and Carbondale

Districts with fixed mill levy rates will be faced with the decision of whether to temporarily lower their mill levy rates in light of the dramatic assessed value jump, or keep their mill levy rates where they are and justify to citizens keeping the additional cash.

"I hope there is a serious dialogue about what is the appropriate revenue level for government," Pitkin County Assessor Isaac said in May.

The city of Aspen collects about $5.40 per every $1,000 of assessed value in the city, a mill levy rate that was fixed by voters two years ago. Voters agreed to let the city collect revenues above what TABOR would allow for five years to fund a number of specific projects, including purchasing hybrid busses and improving city sidewalks to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When Aspen voters approved the break from TABOR, the city estimated that over five years, the city would collect about $3 million above the TABOR limits.

But with this year’s jump in property values, the city will pull in about $1.9 million above TABOR limits, city of Aspen Finance Director Paul Menter said, putting it close to the $3 million limit.

If the $3 million limit is exceeded, the city has three options: It can use the additional revenue on the projects specified, it can go back to voters and ask to use the revenue for other projects or it can refund the additional revenue.

Aspen City Councilman Dwayne Romero, who has served on the boards that set the mill levy rates for the Aspen Historical Society, the fire district and Aspen Highlands, called the budgeting process "something near and dear to my heart."

He said there are clear boundaries for how the city can use the additional revenue.

"It’s not like Daddy Warbucks is going to load up with a big pile of cash and head to Vegas," Romero said, referencing a character from the "Little Orphan Annie" cartoon.

Menter said deciding what to do with the city’s fixed mill levy rate will be an important policy decision for City Council in this and upcoming budgeting processes, which occur every fall.

The Aspen Historical Society, which collects a fixed mill levy of 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, plans to use the additional revenue to hire more staff, director Georgia Hanson said.

With five historical society sites around town and a sixth in the works, Hanson said the organization is currently understaffed.

The society has only been collecting a mill levy for two years, and Hanson said the rate was set with the anticipation that property values would rise. The society hopes to only have to collect the mill levy for 10 years.

"We are acutely aware of our obligation to the public," Hanson said. "We’re grateful."

And pointing out that the 0.3 mill levy is one of the lowest collected by any of the taxing districts, Hanson added, "We’re not greed heads."