Council's Laissez-faire Metro District Politics Creating Backlash from Schools
Loveland, July 22, 2017
Once in a decade or two the tectonic plates that define Loveland's politics begin to shift often swallowing the ambitions of local politicians in the process as they scamper for solid ground between the newly opened fissures in the political landscape. We are currently witnessing just such a shift with metro districts at the epicenter.
Following the second failure of the Thompson School District's bond proposals by over 55% in the case of 3E in 2016, a careful analysis was done on a precinct by precinct level to determine why a popularly elected board of education cannot raise enough public support to pass a bond measure to raise property taxes as required under TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights). The Thompson School District discovered much of their campaign regarding "modest" property tax increases on top of already relatively low property tax rates fell on deaf ears in certain precincts bordering others where it received significantly more support from a nearly identical demographic.
Not surprisingly, those who reside in Loveland's more than a dozen metro districts (also called special districts) voted in greater numbers to defeat the school's most recent ballot measures seeking additional property taxes. That is because property tax rates within metro districts are considerably higher, across Colorado about 1% of their residential property's value, thus homeowners and especially commercial property owners are reticent to even pay more when they are already paying often significantly high mill levies associated with their metro district.
In other words, Loveland's largest single employer, the Thompson School District is turning its attention towards metro districts and the local politicians who created them. Many, including Loveland Mayor Cecil Gutierrez, find themselves in the precarious position of having one foot firmly planted on both sides of the growing chasm; one in the schools from which he retired and receives significant support and the other in Loveland's most influential special interest; the McWhinney brothers who control Centerra's metro districts.
Disparity Between Those Inside and Outside of Metro Districts
According to Attom Data Solutions, the average property tax paid by American home owners in the United States was $3,296 in 2016 or about 1.15% of their property value. In Larimer County, according to Attom Data Solutions, the average property taxes paid in 2016 for residential property was only .48% of the property's value.
In Loveland property taxes can be double in a metro district versus those properties outside the district. Prior to the passage of TABOR, local school boards and other special taxing districts had the authority to raise taxes by a vote of the elected governing body. TABOR changed all that by requiring a vote by the impacted taxpayers before an increase could be implemented.
Developers found a way around TABOR by holding the election before the property is developed. For example, 100 acres owned by a single person where nobody resides (like ag land) is an election of one - the owner. In the case of Centerra the TABOR election placed up to 72 mills on Centerra District 2 properties where the McWhinney brothers are currently collecting 35 mills. However, recent extensions of their debt limit, extending time to repay and compounding interest rights for the debt holder of the $186,000,000 owed all point towards an unavoidable and historically high property tax increase for commercial Centerra property owners.
When Residential Metro Districts Fail - Double Dipping
In February of last year Loveland's City Council approved the Lee Farms Metro District that will impose two additional mill levies on its some 700 housing units totalling 65 additional mills. In addition, the resolution passed by council allows the developer to "double dip" by setting up an HOA on top of the already burdensome maintenance district (15 mills) and improvement district (50 mills) taxes. Despite being briefed by staff that the developer will not establish an HOA on top of their metro district, that is what they allowed by the resolution passed.
In early July a group of experts were assembled to provide Loveland's City Council more information on metro districts and guide them in creating a policy for the city going forward. Pressure to craft an overall policy regarding metro districts is coming largely from the Thompson Board of Education and their supporters who are seeking cooperation from their allies on Loveland's City Council; primarily Gutierrez, Leah Johnson, Richard Ball, Joan Shaffer and John Fogle.
Conspicuously absent from the council's July 11 study session was any staff information on Loveland's Deer Meadows Metro District that failed in 2012 leaving two improved lots to carry the burden of the property and eventual bankruptcy. One speaker, a representative of the Thompson School District, was careful not to express an official position either for or against new metro districts on behalf of the board but nonetheless proceeded to show viewgraphs claiming local schools lost $9.6 million to metro districts last year.
During another recent council meeting where Lakeside Metro District board was trying to talk Loveland's council into approving an extension of their debt to lower payments, Mayor Cecil Gutierrez made an interesting comment. He alluded to Centerra's debt as an obstacle for the school bond indicating he is already trying to jump that chasm leaving his unabashed support for Centerra behind him. Ironically, whether the proposed extension of debt payments by the homeowners will last longer than the life of the improvements it was used to finance was not discussed.