OURAY COUNTY – What were you planning to do on Wednesday, Nov. 6, the day after Election Day? If you are among the hundreds of Ouray County residents who have been closely following the ongoing controversy over potential revisions to the County Land Use Code’s Visual Impact Regulations, chances are you might be attending the much-anticipated continuation of a public hearing on that topic.
The continuation was initially scheduled for Tuesday this week but has been postponed until Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. because the minutes from August’s verbal public comment portion of the hearing have taken so long to prepare; 12 hours’ worth of testimony was made by dozens of county residents over three nights on Aug. 7, 8 and 13.
These comments will become part of the public record which commissioners will consider as they begin deliberating on the matter when they reconvene at the 4-H Event Center in Ridgway on Nov. 6.
Clerk of the Board Linda Munson-Haley, who is preparing the minutes in near-transcript form, told the Ouray County Commissioners this week the record of testimony should be complete in about two weeks’ time, and will be made available to the public on the week of Oct. 8. Minutes will be posted on the county website and will also be available in a public binder at the Ouray County Courthouse.
When the hearing reconvenes, it will be for deliberation among the commissioners only; no further public comment will be permitted.
In Ouray County, A Milestone for Cornerstone
Representatives of the Cornerstone Colorado subdivision are closer to their goal of restructuring the way property owners there pay for maintenance and upkeep of the struggling subdivision, after the Ouray County Commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to the consolidated service plan for Cornerstone Metropolitan District Nos. 1 and 2, Counties of Ouray and Montrose on Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Cornerstone, a 6,000-acre development with a Greg Norman-designed 18-hole
golf course which straddles the county line between Ouray County and Montrose County on Horsefly Mesa, now must win approval from the Montrose County Commissioners on the same matter, with a hearing set for Oct. 7.
Cornerstone representatives seek to amend their metropolitan districts’ service plan, approved by Ouray and Montrose counties in 2004, in order to impose a heftier Operations and Maintenance Mill Levy (up to 40 mils from the current 15) sufficient to support the needs of the districts, as well as to authorize the districts to provide their own covenant enforcement and design review services.
Clint Waldrin, general counsel to Cornerstone Metropolitan Districts No.’s 1 and 2, attended Tuesday’s public hearing via speakerphone. Eric Weaver, manager for both of the districts, and Bill Fugazzi, a board member on both of the district boards, attended in person to make the case for Cornerstone’s dual-pronged request.
Waldrin explained that the initial plan back in 2004 was for Cornerstone, and its assessed value, to grow over time. When the metropolitan districts were formed, mil levy caps were put in place to protect homeowners from this eventuality.
A mill levy is the assessed property tax rate used by local governments and other jurisdictions to raise revenue in order to cover annual expenses. It is calculated annually by dividing projected revenue needs of a taxing jurisdiction by the total value of the property within the area. The higher the assessed value of a jurisdiction, the fewer mils are necessary to raise needed revenues. The inverse is also true; when assessed values plummet, more mills are needed to raise the same amount of money.
The economic downturn and ensuing real estate crash of 2007 and 2008 hit Cornerstone particularly hard. “Instead of our assessed valuation going up exponentially, like it was supposed to, with the stall in the project (due to the economic downturn) our assessed valuation has gone from $18 million to $4 million,” Waldrin said.
The subdivision’s mil levy cap, meanwhile, has severely restricted Cornerstone’s ability to raise sufficient funds to maintain the property; revenues for operations and maintenance at the subdivision have plunged from $270,000 to $70,000.
“It just doesn’t work as a district to be able to do that,” Weaver said. “Even if we were to increase the mil levy to what we are proposing (40 mils) they (Cornerstone property owners) would still see a decrease in their tax bill because the assessed valuations have come down so far. A lot that used to be valued at $400,000 is now valued at $40,000.”
“The winners are the lot owners,” Fugazzi clarified, “because of the massive decrease in the value of the land. The homeowners will actually see their taxes go up,” if the mil levy is increased. Nevertheless, he said, property owners and homeowners alike at Cornerstone have already consented to have their mill levy raised, for the good of their community.
“At some point this whole thing will get resolved,” Fugazzi said, stressing that what the subdivision really needs is flexibility to adjust its mill levy over time in order to raise the funds needed for the subdivisions’s maintenance and upkeep without unduly burdening property owners once property values recover. Hopefully, he said, in future years, that will happen. “Then we can gear down and take some of the load off our owners,” he said.
“So, the mil levy will fluctuate but the actual dollar amount will be somewhat static,”
Commissioner Lynn Padgett clarified. “We are allowing the ability for the metro district to get the funds that it needs, and the mil levy will be set at a level to accomplish that dollar value.”
Ouray County Attorney Marti Whitmore said that the request speaks for itself. “I don’t think that the county has a huge vested interest in this, one way or the other,” she said. She reminded commissioners that the proposed mil levy increase is a homeowner and property owner driven request, unrelated to the group of outside investors that recently purchased the majority of Cornerstone’s assets.
Padgett moved to approve Cornerstone’s proposed amendment to its consolidated service plan; her motion passed unanimously.
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