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Mill levy spurs hot debate in Ken-Caryl

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By Vicky Gits

About 100 people jammed the meeting room at the Ken-Caryl Ranch House on Wednesday, April 23, for a sometimes-emotional debate over the proposed property-tax increase in the Ken-Caryl Ranch Metro District.

The district is asking voters for the second time in six months to approve a 2.5-mill increase from the current 12.709 mills. The mill increase was defeated by a 54 percent no vote in the November election. A 2.5-mill increase would cost the owner of a house valued at $500,000 an extra $100 a year.

Joanne Rock, a longtime member of the League of Women Voters in Jefferson County, a neutral party and not a resident of Ken-Caryl Ranch, moderated the session, with the help of a timekeeper. The face-off lasted only an hour but covered a lot of ground.

Proponents of the mill-levy increase were represented by Alison Evans and Carol Carlson of the Committee to Invest in Ken-Caryl Ranch.

Against the property tax increase were Kathy Tourney, registered agent of the Not Another Tax Increase Committee, and Wayne Lyle. Both Tourney and Lyle are candidates for the metro district board.

Before the November vote, Tourney’s effort received $2,000 from Public Storage, a business in the Ken-Caryl Ranch Metro District. She also obtained a $200 contribution from Billy Halax Real Estate, which owns a building in the Plains Metro District.

A group of Tourney’s family members, including Tourney, owns two buildings in the Plains District. Tourney owns a home and two rental properties in the Ken-Caryl Metro District.

The Ken-Caryl Metro District has been involved in a lawsuit with the Plains Metro District over $3.5 million in recreation facilities that Plains allegedly committed to build for Ken-Caryl in a 1985 agreement. The matter is scheduled to go to trial in June.

“Last November, voters decisively defeated 5A. There is nothing wrong with opposing a permanent tax increase. If B passes, the 5.5 percent TABOR cap disappears forever,” Tourney said in her opening statement.

“There are options. We can tighten our belts, implement stricter bid procedures, review fees, consider one-time assessments and increase efficiencies,” she said.

Tourney said the metro district retaliated against the November no vote by refusing to shovel snow.

“Even though they own the equipment and have personnel on the payroll budgeted at $20,000,” Tourney said. “They threatened to close the Bradford pool, which cost $27,896 to operate in 2006.”

She criticized the disparity between how tennis and equestrian facilities are financed. “Tennis facility users have paid nothing toward the tennis building, which cost $650,000. The equestrian users paid for the entire cost, or $550,000, for the indoor arena.”

In response, Evans argued that the proposed tax increase is marginal compared to the potential benefits.

“We moved here for the beauty, the sense of community and all the amenities. The open space and the foothills add to our value. Letting things go puts a lot at risk,” Evans said.

Tourney said another reason to defeat the mill levy was the resulting total tax burden, which would be nearly 105 mills, compared to Denver, which is close to 67 mills. She noted the master association homeowner dues went up 11.4 percent in 2008 to a total of $468 a year.

“This places an unfair burden on working families and older or disabled people on fixed incomes. It discriminates against those already paying a larger share of property tax because their home has a higher value,” Tourney said. She urged increasing user fees rather than increasing the taxes permanently.

Speaking in favor of the tax increase, Evans responded that the additional funds would provide for adequate maintenance.

“We would like to take advantage of the one-time $112,000 gift from the master association (which is conditioned on passing Ballot issue A). We would like to maintain our property values,” Evans said. “The comps in Williamsburg (east of Ken-Caryl Ranch) are about $40,000 lower. Property value is propped up by great facilities and reasonable user fees. The metro district reserve study showed pretty dire results. There is no way to create a bigger reserve without increased funding.”

She said user fees already constitute 40 percent of the district’s revenue.

“If you raise fees too high, residents will go elsewhere. There are nicer places about a mile away. The other distinction is nonresidents do pay more for after-school programs and tennis,” Evans said.

Tourney disagreed.

“We have 4,000 homes. How much recreation can we afford?” she said. “We have 150 part-time employees in the summer. That equals 27 per home.”

She also criticized the master association for putting political signs on its property and also on the public outdoor billboards.

In response to an unidentified audience member who posed the question, “Why are we having another vote?”, both sides had plenty to say.

“It doesn’t cost the metro district anything to do it. They say it wasn’t fair, but every paper has had articles about why they need it. I think we had a fair election, and I hope they will be defeated again,” Tourney said.

“I asked the same question,” said Lyle. “Fifty-five percent voted against, and it pops up again. We have done a good job of dividing the community on this issue. We need to get the community back together again.”

“The community is being torn apart by outside business interests,” said Evans. “(One accountant) examined the books and found there was no more fat to cut. The only exception was the water bill of $300,000 was too high, and he thought maybe the district could get a government rate.”

Tourney also is one of seven candidates for the three seats on the board of the metro district in a mail-in election with ballots due May 6.

The debate over whether to raise the property tax 2.5 mills has been raging since November, when the idea was voted down 54 percent to 46 percent (1,680 votes to 1,450), with a turnout of more than 50 percent of the registered voters.

ELECTION INFORMATION

Mail-in ballots must be returned to the Ranch House no later than 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6. A ballot received after that date and time cannot be counted even if mailed before then.

• Voters will be asked to vote for three members of the board of directors for four-year terms.

• Ballot issue A asks to increase the property tax by 2.5 mills to raise $489,385 in the first year for improvements, maintenance and general purposes. The increase was voted down in the November election and placed on the ballot a second time this spring.

• Ballot issue B is new and asks voters to permanently exempt financial operations of the district from the TABOR Amendment and the state’s 5.5 percent property-tax increase limitation.