Routt County elected officials address education, property taxes, and short-term rentals at town hall
In a conversation with Sen. Dylan Roberts and Rep. Meghan Lukens on Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Bud Werner Memorial Library, Routt County citizens raised concerns about the state of funding for schools in Colorado. Many in attendance said they read a recent article in The Colorado Sun about Lukens where she mentioned the crisis Colorado’s education funding faces with the budget stabilization factor.
In the article, Lukens was quoted mentioning the $300 million that represent the “negative factor,” or funds taken from Colorado’s education budget reallocated elsewhere. Colorado has long sought to make education funding whole again following the Great Recession in 2008. Efforts continue to buy down this negative factor, but Colorado’s education funding remains unstable.
Questions from citizens regarding education funding largely involved requests for clarification and explanation of Colorado’s complex education funding problems. Before addressing potential solutions, Lukens ensured constituents understood the problems at hand. She detailed the malleability of the education budgets and Roberts provided context as to how that budget is dispersed to school districts.
After addressing the per pupil funding model, Lukens next delved into current actions happening at the legislature to tackle this issue.
“Last legislative session, we did have the biggest buyout of the budget stabilization factor. This legislative session we are hoping to buy down even more and potentially even eliminate it,” she said. “The governor’s budget that came out does have the highest investment that we have ever seen in our classrooms.”
Lukens mentioned the legislature has to be very conscientious introducing any bills that cost money. The money would be taken from that same pot, potentially taking away from education funding. She emphasized that factors such as time and varying opinions in the legislature impact tackling the education funding crisis in the state.
Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan raised concerns about an extreme increase in property tax valuations, referencing the fact that the county assessor indicated that property tax valuations in Routt could rise 60%. This increase will show up on residents’ property tax bills in 2024.
Roberts explained the previous efforts to mitigate this issue, including last year’s $800 million tax rebate. The governor requested at least $300 million in property tax rebates for this year, but according to Roberts, there’s an appetite in the legislature for more than $300 million in rebates.
A prior effort to tackle this issue, the repealing of the Gallagher Amendment in 2020, both harmed and helped the issue. According to Roberts, this caused commercial property tax rates to go up significantly and residential rates to go down.
“While some people were saving on their property taxes, we were drastically underfunding our local services like schools and fire districts, libraries and other services that were liable to property tax share,” Roberts said.
In response to the issues repealing Gallagher caused, the legislature froze property tax rates for four years. They are currently three years into this four year plan. Roberts insinuated that no major legislation will take place until next year and the legislature hopes to get input from constituents before doing so.
Taking a regional approach to taxes, Roberts said, is on the table.
“We recognize that high tax valuations in our resort counties need to be recognized and treated fairly,” he said.
Corrigan continued to share his concerns on the matter, especially in relation to how property taxes will impact senior citizens in the community with fixed income.
Roberts mentioned there could be a bill this year amending the Senior Homestead Exemption Act. First approved in 2000, the act allows seniors who have been in their home for at least 10 years to get 50% of the first $200,000 of actual value of the applicant’s primary residence exempted.
Yet, this 20-year-old act has not weathered inflation and no longer serves citizens the way it did in the early 2000s.
“You have to stay in the home where you qualified for the original exemptions in order to keep getting it every year, so you can’t downsize, you can’t move to another town,” Roberts said.
Roberts indicated that the legislature recognizes this act hasn’t kept up with inflation and changes need to happen in order for it to serve its true purpose.
With short-term rentals persisting as a problem in the county, the representatives shed light on current initiatives meant to give more jurisdiction to counties and demand more transparency from short-term rental platforms.
Three years ago, the state legislature passed a bill that empowered counties and municipalities to establish rules around short-term rentals that could make them a better part of the community, such as requiring noise and trash restrictions.
Roberts mentioned the loophole in this legislation that doesn’t give counties the ability to remove a short-term rental from the platform if they are not compliant with local rules.
New proposed legislation by Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie seeks to amend this.
“One part of a proposed bill is to give counties the authority that cities already have to have jurisdiction to hold short-term rentals accountable,” Roberts said. “This would also give jurisdictions that license short-term rental, or jurisdictions that don’t, the ability to give access to data from the platform.”
This would give access to information regarding property listens and any complaints made through the website. Roberts indicated major short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo showed support for the bill.
Alongside addressing concerns and talking about future legislation, representatives also spoke about recent legislative highlights. Lukens had two bills recently pass in the House: Support for Rural Telecommunication Providers, and Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact.
Support for Rural Telecommunication Providers will increase the broadband access in rural communities and help get resources and funding to improve rural broad band services. Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact is a bill that streamlines the process for teachers to move from out-of-state and fill open positions in Colorado.
Roberts passed bills in the House for Civil Defense Worker Compensation and Higher Education Crisis and Suicide Prevention in addition to being on the bill for rural telecommunications providers.
Kit Geary is the county, public safety and education reporter. To reach her, call 970-871-4229 or email her at kgeary@SteamboatPilot.com.
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