Rio Grande mill levy questioned

CENTER — A 5.5 mill levy set by the town of Center on Rio Grande property within the town limits was the topic of discussion at a recent Rio Grande County Commissioners meeting, with the Rio Grande county administrator challenging the amount of the mill levy.

Center Town Board certified the mill levy which was then sent to Rio Grande County commissioners Dec. 7 for their approval and authorization. Rio Grande County Administrator Roni Wisdom brought the matter to the attention of commissioners.

Ordinarily, when operating under TABOR laws, an election is required to approve any mill levy exceeding 5.5 percent. But the Center mill levy was not preceded by an election.

After discussing the matter, commissioners shared Wisdom’s concerns that the mill levy amount exceeded TABOR limits and inquired into the lawfulness of the mill levy, consulting with the county attorney and Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). They confirmed the amount did exceed TABOR limits and then approached Center Town Administrator Brian Lujan, who agreed to address the issue.

Lujan was contacted Thursday and explained he had spoken with Wisdom and DOLA. Town Attorney Michael Trujillo advised he speak with the Colorado Municipal League. Lujan also spoke to former town officials about the situation.

According to what Lujan discovered, the town of Center repealed its TABOR laws and was debruced in the early 2000s. The exact date is still being verified by Trujillo. So the town does not have to abide by TABOR laws in setting the mill levy.

Had the town violated TABOR, taxpayers paying in the mill levy would need to have been reimbursed by Rio Grande County, who in turn would have charged Center not just actual fees but also administrative fees for making the reimbursement. He said DOLA advised him to be cautious in setting the levies, even though the town is exempt from TABOR laws.

Lujan explained that had the town exceeded the 5.5 percent, even though technically they are TABOR exempt, then it would still be a TABOR question. But since the town exacted the levy because property evaluations are down, avoiding a $25,000 hit on the town, they were allowed some leeway because the increase was not arbitrary.

Lujan said Center is committed to doing its checks and balances and working closely with DOLA. Had the mill levy been in violation of TABOR and subject to return, the loss for the town would have been “significant,” he said.

Wisdom is now aware the town is not in violation of the law, Lujan noted, and will not need to return the funds.

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