Roads and Bridges Mill Levy Ballot Initiative

In November 2015, voters in La Plata County said no to a mill levy increase on residential property taxes. In July 2016, the La Plata County Board of Commissioners voted to bring the issue to the public’s attention again, placing it on the public ballot for the second time for the upcoming November 2016 election. Considering there was a “no” vote as recently as 2015, it may seem odd for the commissioners to raise the issue again so soon. Here’s a primer to understand how and why these mill levy increases come up on the ballot, and what is at stake.

Background Roads and Bridges

La Plata County has 653 miles of county roads, serving approximately 56,000 residents.  222 miles are paved and 431 miles are gravel. The La Plata County Roads and Bridges Department is responsible for construction and maintenance of roads and bridge projects and their work includes snow plowing, grading, dust suppression, roadside mowing, street sweeping, gravel application, striping, signage, and guard rails.  Funding for the Roads and Bridges Department comes from grants, highway-user tax, sales tax and property tax.  Currently, funds are short, due to several factors:  fewer energy impact grants are available now than in the past, highway-user taxes are fluctuating, and property tax revenues have been falling since 2012, due to the decline in gas prices nationwide and a drop in oil and gas production in La Plata County. Oil and gas property tax revenues to the county fell an estimated 60% from 2010-2015.

The Board of County Commissioners, in a recent presentation to City Council, reiterated that ensuring a safe, reliable and efficient road system is a key responsibility of county government.  As our county population continues to grow, traffic volume increases, which causes wear and tear on county roads. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Colorado State Demographer’s Office, La Plata County’s population of 54,668 in 2015 is projected to be 61,785 by 2020.

A citizen’s advisory group, the Long Term Finance Committee, was established in 2013 and charged with assessing La Plata County’s financial situation in view of the decline in revenue, in order to make recommendations to the County.  After many meetings and discussions, the Committee recommended that the Board of County Commissioners ask voters for a property tax increase of 2.4 mills to address the current funding gap and continuing downward trends.  The increase in property taxes associated with a 2.4 mill levy increase would bring in approximately $4.5 million to the county in 2017 and help pay for needed Road and Bridges Department maintenance and constructions projects. The cost of the Roads and Bridges mill levy increase for a residential property owner would be an additional $76/year for a $400,000 home.  Projects to be funded would include: 24 miles of road reconstruction, 32 miles of paving, 3 intersection improvements and 8 bridge and drainage projects. The increase in property taxes would sunset in 10 years.

Mill levies and calculating property taxes

Mill levies are voter-approved tax rates that are applied to property taxes, using a state mandated formula. Although our property taxes are payable to La Plata County, the revenue is allocated to various government and service authorities throughout the county, including cities (Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio), school districts, fire protection authorities, and more. Property taxes vary depending on which district you reside in within the county.

Across the state of Colorado, there is a flat assessment rate for residential property, regardless of what county you live in. Presently it is 7.96 percent of the appraised value of your home (in other words, your home’s appraised value X 0.076 = its assessed value). You can then multiply your home’s assessed value by La Plata County’s mill levy to determine your residential property taxes.

The formula reads like this:

Your home’s appraised value  X  0.0796  X mill levy

The current mill levy in La Plata County is 8.500 mills.  The recommended increase of 2.4 mills would bring the mill levy to 10.90.

Property Tax Simulator

La Plata County has two property tax increases that will be on the ballot in November of 2016, the Roads and Bridges proposed mill levy increase, as well as the Airport proposed mill levy increase (to be discussed in a separate blog).  To help you determine the estimated yearly property tax increase for either or both initiatives, based on your own individual properties assessed value, the Assessor’s Office has created a user-friendly property tax simulator. I highly recommend that all readers of this blog try to login to this site and understand the impact to their property taxes based on both of these initiatives.

  1. Go to:
  1. Click on the La Plata County Assessor’s Database that is highlighted in the property tax simulator instructions.
  1. Login as a Public User
  1. In the Account Search criteria, type in your account number from your Property tax notice, or search by name and site address.
  1. Click on your account after it appears from the search results.
  1. Take note of the “Assessed Value” and “Mill Levy” under your Assessment History on the right of the report.
  1. Go back to the Property Tax Simulator on the La Plata County Assessor’s office website.
  1. Scroll down the simulator page and type in your assessed value and mill levy that you accessed in your assessment history.
  1. You can indicate a Y – “Yes” – for the Airport Expansion, as well as for County Road and Bridge Mill increase, to determine the exact estimated yearly property tax increase for either, or both, initiatives, with regard to your own personal property.

Other Considerations

  • La Plata County hasn’t increased property tax rates since 1992.
  • La Plata County’s mill levy is currently the 4th lowest in the state.
  • If voters approve a 2.4 mill increase in November, 2016, La Plata County’s mill levy would still be Colorado’s 10th from lowest mill levy.
  • Taxes on oil and gas revenue have provided substantial percentages of revenue to La Plata County for a number of years. According to an article in the Durango Herald (October 2015), revenue from oil and gas provided nearly 80 percent of the county’s budget at one time. It’s widely accepted that the oil and gas based revenue model is not sustainable.

In summary, while no one “likes” higher taxes, the proposed mill levy increase is one solution to funding critical infrastructure needs for our Roads and Bridges, which is a fundamentally important priority for our community.


La Plata County, services and property tax information:

La Plata County Assessor’s Office (for property valuation information):

Understanding Property Taxes in Colorado:

“Mill Levy Increase to go to Voters,” Durango Herald, October 2015:

“La Plata County Commissioners to Vote on Mill Levy Ballot Item,” Durango Herald, July 2016:

One Comment

  • Nancy Shanks

    Great information, Melissa. I especially like how you broke it down into bullet points in “Other Considerations.” I think it’s important for our community members to keep in mind that, even though we are being asked to pay a little more, we really haven’t been paying enough and have not been asked to do so for nearly 25 years. Another point is that Colorado has not raised its gas tax since 1992. Our state fuel tax is still at 22 cents a gallon (federal is 18 cents, and a portion of these monies go to cities and counties). Last year, Colorado ranked 37th in the nation, or 7.6 cents below the national average, in what our drivers pay per gallon at the pump. We are below neighboring states like Utah (which just raised their state rate to 29 cents per gallon), Nebraska, Wyoming and Kansas; and well below states like California and Hawaii, which pay 40 cents and 42 cents, respectively. And unlike these states, Colorado and its counties have to use a higher percentage of highway funds to pay for things that don’t even improve our roads and bridges, such as snow and ice control, rockfall and avalanches on high mountain passes, state and local. Bottom line – like our neighbors, we can handle paying a little more to take care of our roads–we’re worth it!

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