Local voters might be amenable to mill levy increase

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By Joe Moylan

The Foothills Park District board learned that local voters would support a modest property-tax increase if one was presented on the November ballot.

On Tuesday, Lori Weigel, a partner with Alexandria, Va.-based Public Opinion Strategies, presented the Foothills board with the results of a survey of district voters, which showed the public would likely back a property tax increase of 2 or 3 mills. The survey was conducted between March 1-4 and encompassed 300 past voters who were equally represented by gender, age, political affiliation and parents versus non-parents, Weigel said.

The Foothills board first began discussing the option of conducting a voter survey in December to test different ballot language, learn what programs matter most to residents and gauge voter receptiveness to two different mill levy increase options to hopefully avoid repeating mistakes that led to failed ballot measures in the past.

In 2014, Foothills asked voters to approve a property-tax increase of 4 mills. That effort was defeated 54 percent to 46 percent despite the district not receiving a property tax increase from voters since 2000.

In order to learn how big of a tax increase voters would be amenable to, Weigel said half of the survey participants were posed a question about whether or not they would support a tax hike of 2 mills, or $2.15 million annually. The other half were asked if they would support a tax increase of 3 mills, or $3.25 million annually. In both cases, and without any additional information, two-thirds of those polled said they would back a mill levy increase.

Support for the two measures only increased after participants were better informed about how each of the proposals affected them personally, Weigel said, adding that voters were told that a property tax increase of 2 mills was equal to about $16 in additional annual taxes for every $100,000 of property value. An increase of 3 mills is equal to an extra $24 a year per $100,000 in property value. Once informed, Weigel said support for both mill levy increase proposals increased between five and seven percent.

Given such strong support, the Foothills board members were curious to know if they should consider going after more.

“They didn’t really care about either the 2 mills or the 3 mills, so my natural question is what about 4?” said the district’s newest board member and treasurer Tony Esolen.

But Weigel cautioned the district about being too greedy and asking for a property-tax increase that already failed in the past. She also noted the importance of giving voters a bailout option, noting that when the district asked voters for an additional 4 mills in 2014 there was no sunset provision.

“Ballot language is really important, people tend to gravitate to more modest increases and you really have to have them sunset in under 10 years anymore,” Weigel said. “I would be really hesitant about going after 4 mills since that already failed just a couple of years ago.”

In addition to polling voters about the mill levy increase amounts, survey takers also were asked why they would support a tax hike. The district learned that their residents value maintaining community parks and open spaces, and programs for seniors, youth and children the most. Voters viewed maintaining the district’s swimming pools and golf courses as the lowest priorities.

Currently, South Jeffco residents support the Foothills district to the tune of 7.18 mills. The majority, 5.179 mills, is used for the district’s operational expenses. The remaining 2.001 mills, which is tied to a bond issue slated to sunset in 2020, is used for capital projects.

A mill is equal to $1 per every $1,000 of a resident’s assessed property value. The district has stated in the past it would use the additional property tax revenue to address rising operational costs.

Reporter Joe Moylan can be reached at jmoylan@evergreenco.com.