Inequality claim arises in Clifton tax district

The partially built Saddle Rock subdivision sits empty off F 1/2 Road near 31 1/2 Road.

Mesa County commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland have touted the creation of a taxing district in Clifton and Fruitvale as a vehicle for generating funding to pay for services in an area they claim has demanded more than its fair share of the county’s resources.

But a little more than a year after the district’s formation, developers are grumbling about an inequality that has emerged in which property owners within the same development receive the same level of services but pay two different levels of property taxes.

The discrepancy prompted the board this week to postpone a decision on whether to annex into the Bookcliff Urban Services Public Improvement District a lot in the Saddle Rock subdivision near 31 1/2 and F 1/2 roads.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who was ill and missed the meeting during which Meis and Rowland delayed action, said the concerns raised by local builders constitute one of several reasons why he has been opposed to the district from the beginning.

“There’s great inequities associated with this whole thing,” he said.

The commission in 2009 voted 2–1 — Acquafresca dissented — to establish the district. The district officially was formed by the vote of one property owner, and there are now three properties within the district.

The district’s tax rate is 2 mills. The rate would increase to 14 mills once 100 homes exist within the district, and it could be bumped up to 22 mills once 200 homes appear. Properties are added to the district as they develop. Existing homes and businesses aren’t required to join.

Meis and Rowland have contended the district is necessary to continue to provide urban levels of service to Clifton and Fruitvale, which they argue are receiving a disproportionate share of county tax money in comparison to their population.

Developers, though, told commissioners this week the district is fundamentally unfair because it has resulted in homeowners in the same subdivision paying different tax rates. They also said the increased tax could make it more difficult for them and Realtors to build and sell lots.

Vernon Pace, the developer of the 86-lot Saddle Rock subdivision, told commissioners this week he’s “very, very, very upset” with the creation of the district.

“This is no fun to go through two or three years of brain damage with your planning department (to get subdivision approval), and then to be caught on the tail end of the process was a slap in the face,” Pace said.

Meis said Associated Members for Growth and Development raised their concerns with him recently. He said he wants to have a discussion with the local group and other stakeholders to see if adjustments can be made, but he believes the county can’t continue with the status quo in Clifton and Fruitvale.

“I’m happy to have a discussion on changing it. What I’m confident about is we can’t continue to allow high-density development with a rural millage,” Meis said.

But Acquafresca said he fundamentally disagrees with the concept of the district, saying tax increases should fund specific services or projects requested by the community and be voted on by municipalities, counties and states, not single property owners.

“They don’t deserve this new, undeserved tax foisted on them without a vote of the community,” he said.

Commissioners agreed to delay a vote on annexing property at 3163 Saddle Gulch Drive into the district until Jan. 31.


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