Is Den­ver’s $937 mil­lion bond pro­posal a tax in­crease? Yes and no. Well, mostly yes.

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

We sup­port Den­ver’s metic­u­lously drafted pro­posal for $937 mil­lion in bonds over 10 years to in­vest in the Mile High City. We also sup­port truth in ad­ver­tis­ing and think some­one should say some­thing about the oft-re­peated state­ment that vot­ers won’t be con­sid­er­ing a tax in­crease in Novem­ber.

Be­cause, most cer­tainly, taxes are go­ing up.

The city’s prop­erty tax for bond projects raised $89.9 mil­lion in 2007, and in 2016 the same 8.433 mill levy raised $123 mil­lion. It’ll raise even more rev­enue in 2018 — that is, if vot­ers ap­prove the gen­eral obli­ga­tion bonds at the bal­lot. The in­crease is driven by sky­rock­et­ing prop­erty val­ues, not by in­creased tax rates, but it’s still a big­ger tax bill for most.

The city used a rea­son­able process to se­lect projects for the bonds, es­pe­cially ef­forts to en­sure re­sources land in com­mu­ni­ties eq­ui­tably. We sup­port the needed in­vest­ment in mo­bil­ity projects: bus rapid tran­sit, bike lanes, pedes­trian bridges, side­walks, and good old-fash­ioned road ex­pan­sion and paving projects. We sup­port in­vest­ing in parks and li­braries, recre­ation cen­ters and mu­se­ums.

Yes, the city could have di­rected more in­vest­ment in de­ferred main­te­nance — tak­ing care of the as­sets we al­ready have — but we’re pla­cated by Mayor Michael Han­cock’s re­spon­si­ble in­sis­tence that about half of the bond go to main­tain­ing cur­rent in­fra­struc­ture.

Th­ese in­vest­ments cre­ate a thriv­ing econ­omy for a thriv­ing pop­u­la­tion. The city’s gen­eral obli­ga­tion pro­gram, which has spent $1.6 bil­lion since 1989, is a model for in­vest­ment and a re­spon­si­ble use of tax­payer dol­lars.

Yet it’s also true that a $200 mil­lion re­duc­tion in debt autho­riza­tion — say, re­duc­ing the re­quest closer to the orig­i­nally an­tic­i­pated amount of $750 mil­lion — would save tax­pay­ers 1 mill. That mill rep­re­sents a tax sav­ings of ap­prox­i­mately $26 a year for a home with the me­dian value in Den­ver of $360,000, ac­cord­ing to the city’s fi­nance de­part­ment. If vot­ers re­jected the bond pack­age, their tax bill would drop — and while home­owner’s sav­ings would be mod­est, com­mer­cial prop­erty own­ers who are as­sessed at a more ag­gres­sive 29 per­cent ra­tio would see an even greater sav­ings.

The philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion is: Are prop­erty val­ues ris­ing at such a rate that the city should build “prop­erty tax re­lief” into this year’s bond ques­tion and ask for less, or should the city max out the re­quest un­der the ex­ist­ing tax rate, an­tic­i­pat­ing that a grow­ing city has grow­ing de­mands?

We would ar­gue that the ben­e­fits of in­vest­ing in a city dur­ing good years far out­weighs the sav­ings to be gained by re­duc­ing the mill levy. For less than $30 a year, Den­ver res­i­dents will see sub­stan­tially more in­vest­ment in city as­sets.

But not ev­ery­one will see it that way. It’ll be a harder sell than usual in this lib­eral en­clave, given that most mort­gages with es­crow ac­counts to pay taxes in­creased sub­stan­tially this year. Luck­ily, the cam­paign to push for the bond is­sue has al­ready drawn in close to a half-mil­lion dol­lars to sell this non-tax-in­crease tax in­crease to vot­ers.

Such a cam­paign would be smart to fo­cus on the over­all low prop­erty taxes Den­ver res­i­dents pay com­pared to other cities in the state and na­tion; on the fact that at the state level the as­sess­ment ra­tio for res­i­den­tial prop­erty was de­creased from 7.96 per­cent to 7.2 per­cent be­cause of Gal­lagher Amend­ment re­stric­tions; and on the fact that the voter­ap­proved de-bruc­ing un­der 2012’s Ini­tia­tive 2A is al­ready re­strict­ing prop­erty taxes and the city’s gen­eral fund mill levy could drop by as much as 2 mills in 2018 to stay un­der the growth cap.

Such a cam­paign shouldn’t harp too end­lessly on the halftruth that vot­ers won’t be vot­ing on their tax bill in Novem­ber.

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