El Paso County will refund $30.7 million to property taxpayers on tax bills received in 2023, which is required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. TABOR sets a cap on how much revenue governments can collect year over year. They can’t keep the excess unless voters allow it.
In 2021, the Board of County Commissioners sought voter approval to retain excess TABOR funds collected in 2020 and reset the TABOR cap going forward, except for $7.1 million from 2020 that would have been refunded.
But voters defeated the measure 55 percent to 45 percent.
Now, commissioners will refund revenue collected in 2021 in excess of TABOR without asking voter permission to keep the extra dollars. Had the 2021 measure been adopted by voters, there might not have been a refund this year, because the TABOR cap would have been reset higher, Commissioner Stan VanderWerf tells Sixty35 news magazine by phone.
“We didn’t think there was a likelihood of success putting that to voters one year after they voted it down,” VanderWerf says. “That wouldn’t be a logical approach.”
Besides that, he says, the county has maneuvered its spending and budgeting to build a reserve in case of an economic downturn, and VanderWerf says he hopes the refund will “be helpful to people, especially in these uncertain economic times.
“We’ve got some people, especially those on fixed incomes, this is going to help them a little bit, depending on the size of the home. Every little bit is going to help,” he says.
In a release, the county valued the refund at about $113 on a $500,000 house. Using another example contained in a property tax statement, the county notes in the release the TABOR refund would reduce a tax bill of $4,217 by $121.
VanderWerf noted that the 2021 ballot measure’s intent was to funnel more money into roads. “But knowing that was not successful, we’ve been doing a lot to be prepared for a downturn in the economy. So we’ve downsized the number of employees, by 20 to 30. We’ve been building reserves to have breathing space. We’ve done a lot of work to bulletproof the county in an economic downturn.”
The release said the $30.7 million represents 41 percent of the overall property taxes El Paso County will collect in 2023.
“El Paso County is the most populous county in the state, and we are proud to be fiscally judicious while providing high-quality services,” Board Chair Cami Bremer said in the release. “We are rapidly growing and will continue to run a lean and effective government; this TABOR refund demonstrates our ability to do that.”
If you’re not familiar with TABOR, here are a few data points, provided by the county:
• Adopted by voters in 1992, TABOR applies to all Colorado government levels, including the state, counties, cities, school districts, and special districts, though many local districts, including 57 out of the 64 Colorado counties have asked and been granted by voters an exemption from the TABOR revenue limit.
• The amount of tax revenue that can be retained each year is capped according to specific growth factors, depending on the level of government. For counties such as El Paso County, the annual revenue limit is based on the prior year’s actual revenue or limit (whichever was lower). It increases each year based on two growth factors: local inflation and the value of new construction.
• Unlike the state TABOR limit, population figures do not factor into the county revenue limit.
• TABOR also requires voters to approve any tax rate increase at all levels of government.