Guest Commentary: Larimer’s 2016 budget innovations include I-25, property tax credit

By Tom Donnelly,
Larimer County Commissioner

The 2016 Larimer County Budget, adopted Dec. 22, is forward looking and innovative benefitting the residents of Larimer County. Two of the budget highlights that tell this story concern the Interstate 25 and a property-tax credit to property owners.

A big challenge facing Northern Colorado is I-25. It’s crowded, inconvenient and dangerous. I-25 capacity limits impact our quality of life and opportunities. The Colorado Department of Transportation has applied for a federal challenge grant for $90 million to replace three bridges and repair a fourth on I-25 in Northern Colorado.

Federal funds usually require a local match. In this situation the local match would likely be $15 million to $18 million. We proposed an innovative solution to raising a portion of the local matching dollars and it won’t financially impact current projects for any of the entities.

When a property owner pays property tax, 25 percent of the total stays with the county and the remainder goes to school districts, cities and special districts. The county’s main source of discretionary revenue is property tax and we split those mill levies among our services. This year, after years of stagnate property values, assessed valuation is up by more than 15 percent. Under state law, the Road and Bridge mill levy is shared back with municipalities; for every $1.00 collected in the Road and Bridge mill levy, $0.39 is distributed to cities and towns in the County.

What we proposed is a partnership with the eight municipalities in the County to raise funds for the local match. We will shift a portion of the mill levy usually dedicated to the General Fund to increase the slice dedicated to Road and Bridge. This shift of $2 million annually can occur for five years without impacting other county services. The cities and towns are being asked to earmark the additional funds they receive through this share back to the I-25 match and the County will dedicate a proportionate share to generate a total of $5.3 million over the five-year period. (The remaining $4.7 million will go to regional road projects.)

Municipalities in Larimer County have adopted resolutions in support of this innovative idea. If all the pieces fall into place, the bridges bottlenecking I-25 could be improved, enabling other capacity expansions to follow. CDOT is expected to learn if it’s received funding, and at what amount, in January.

The second example in the 2016 Larimer County budget involves a property tax credit to property owners. As stated earlier, the County’s main source of discretionary revenue is property tax and this year assessed valuation is up.

When designing our budget for 2016 we decided we wanted to offset some the impact of rising property values on taxpayers. What we came up with is a one-time mill levy credit of $2.5 million. This amount represents 22 percent of the increase in property tax revenues that would have gone to the County’s general fund. This amount will be deducted automatically from property tax bills so that no action is required by taxpayers or the County to implement.

With a portion of the increased revenues going back to property owners and a portion going to the local match for I-25, including a regional project, we believe we have offered innovation solutions that will benefit the residents of Larimer County.

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