Sales Taxes May Be Lower, but Property Taxes Are Usually Higher in Unincorporated Areas

It’s a common misconception that taxes are lower in unincorporated areas of each county, but that only applies to sales tax. I don’t know of any unincorporated area where property taxes are lower than they are in incorporated cities and towns.

Moreover, newer subdivisions in unincorporated areas typically have “metropolitan tax districts” that were created by the developer to pay for infrastructure — streets, gutters, sidewalks, water and sewer mains, etc. — which can make property taxes quite a bit higher than in the older areas of incorporated cities and towns.

Compare, for example, the mill levy for the City of Golden with the multiple mill levies in unincorporated areas of Jefferson County.

In Jeffco’s oldest incorporated city, Golden, the city’s mill levy is only 12.34 mills.  (The total mill levy for Golden is 85.389, the rest being for county government and for Jeffco Public Schools.)

In those homes which are not in the City of Golden but have Golden addresses, the mill levies to provide the same services (police, fire, parks, water and sewer infrastructure, etc.) are always higher. A good example is Mesa View Estates, the 1980s neighborhood behind the Jeffco Fairgrounds. Homes in that neighborhood have mill levies from four tax jurisdictions to provide the same services that are included in the City of Golden’s single mill levy.

Those four mill levies are: water & sanitation (6.786 mills); parks & recreation (6.829 mills); County sheriff (2.46 mills); and fire protection (13.196 mills). That’s a total of 29.271 mills, or over 2⅓ times what the City of Golden collects to provide the same services.

Thus, a $1 million home in the City of Golden would have an annual property tax bill of $5,934, whereas a $1 million home in Mesa View Estates would have an annual property tax bill of $7,042.

It’s even worse for homes in the Table Rock subdivision north of Golden but with Golden addresses. There the mill levy for police, fire, parks and water totals 18.447 (less than in Mesa View Estates), but there’s a levy of 31 mills by the Table Rock Metropolitan District, raising the annual property tax bill to $8,513.

There are many newer subdivisions with metropolitan tax districts which charge 50 or more mills, making the property tax bills that much higher. The most extreme example I have found is the Vauxmont Metropolitan Tax District serving Candelas in northern Arvada.  Its mill levy is 77.93, making the annual tax bill for a $1 million home $12,142. Again, compare that to the $5,934 tax bill for a $1 million home in the City of Golden.

Candelas, however, is in the City of Arvada, not unincorporated Jeffco.  Older sections of Arvada, such as Scenic Heights, do not have metropolitan tax districts, but they do have separate mill levies for fire protection and for parks and recreation districts. Similarly, Lakewood wasn’t incorporated until 1969, by which time there were multiple fire, water and parks districts already charging a mill levy. Still, the total mill levy in both Arvada and Lakewood — minus any metropolitan tax districts — is under 100 mills. Virtually all unincorporated areas of the county have total mill levies that are above 100.

Denver’s mill levy of 74.618 mills is even lower than Golden’s, although there are some metropolitan tax districts within Denver, such as Westerly Creek in Central Park (formerly Stapleton), which charges 60.867 additional mills.

As a side note, I sit on the Rules & Regulations Committee of our MLS and have suggested, without success so far, that listings in REcolorado include the mill levy instead of, or in addition to, the dollar amount of property taxes.

Sales taxes can only be levied by incorporated cities and towns and by state-constituted districts such as RTD and SCFD. I’m not aware of any county-level sales taxes. If you buy a truck or car worth, say, $100,000, you could easily save $3,000 in sales tax by registering it in an unincorporated area of the county, but that may not be enough to compensate for the additional property taxes you will be paying.

By the way, property tax is also levied as “ownership” tax on that $100,000 truck or car.

How Are Property Taxes Calculated in Colorado?

Property taxes are charged through a mill levy. Each “mill” (from the Latin word for thousand) is a tax of one dollar for each thousand dollars of your home’s assessed valuation.

In Colorado, the assessed value of residential real estate is currently calculated at 6.95% of the home’s full valuation. Thus, if the county assessor determines that your home is worth $1 million, its assessed valuation would be $69,500, and the mill levy for each taxing jurisdiction would be applied to that lower value, A mill levy of 100 mills would thus produce a property tax bill of $6,950 (which is 100 x 69.5)

The Colorado constitution requires county assessors to determine what each property could have sold for on June 30th of each even-numbered year (2020, 2022, 2024, etc.) and apply mill levies to 6.95% of that full valuation for the following two tax years.

It Seems That We All Have Racism on Our Minds. Here Are My Thoughts.

It has certainly been an interesting and emotional two weeks since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Rita and I have been happy to add our voices, and are impressed at the longevity and the worldwide spread of the demonstrations.

On Sunday afternoon, there was an event in downtown Golden, which the two of us attended.  (See the picture  by Chris Davell of Goldentoday.com below.) It was followed by a march through downtown Golden, although Rita and I didn’t stay for that.

The event was organized by a group called Golden United. I have attended several prior events by this wonderful organization, headed by Golden resident Ron Benioff. You will probably read about it elsewhere in this newspaper since I met the reporter covering it. Several hundred people attended the event in Parfet Park, most of them wearing masks and all socially distanced.

It was, of course, very peaceful. After all, this is Golden, a college town that is majority liberal, majority white, and my home for the past 23 years. A city councilor, JJ Trout, emceed the event, giving a very thoughtful speech of her own. Mayor Laura Weinberg also spoke.  Both displayed great introspection and deep thought on the topic of racism. Ron Benioff spoke, stressing that being non-racist is no longer enough. We all have to be anti-racist.

The police chief, Bill Kilpatrick, was there with one other officer and received generous applause at the mention of his sensitive letter to the community which he wrote shortly after the death of George Floyd. (That was followed this week by a lengthy posting on the city’s website outlining police practices and training related to implicit bias, the use of force and other topics raised following George Floyd death.)

I have a couple thoughts to share beyond my sincere appreciation for Golden United and our city’s political leaders.

First of all, I feel that we are overlooking anti-Hispanic racism, which is just as pervasive as anti-black racism. It was the first and remains the greatest expression of racism by our current president, who opposes even legal immigration from people of any color other than white. (Remember his comment about Norwegians being more desirable than Hispanics?)

It’s my perception, and perhaps yours, that whites and the police are not as fearful of Hispanics as they are of African-Americans, but they still don’t view Hispanics as equally valuable human beings.

I certainly value and appreciate our Hispanic population and especially the Mexican-Amercans and their undocumented cousins who work tirelessly and with seeming contentment at so many jobs which other Americans are unwilling to perform — picking our vegetables and fruits, repairing or replacing our roofs, and collecting our trash alongside African-Americans.  (It was heart-warming last week to read a post on NextDoor urging neighbors to tape dollar bills to the lids of our trash carts as a way of thanking our trash collectors.)

Not only do we as a white society insufficiently appreciate our black and Hispanic population, our regressive laws work to keep that population impoverished. We need to address our anti-poor policies — which are really pro-wealthy policies, such as the Trump tax bill of 2017 — which have widened the gap between rich and poor in America.

Real estate, at least in the Denver market, is a majority white industry, not representative of the racial diversity of the metro area. I can say with confidence that it’s not reflective of any anti-black discrimination in hiring.  My first partner in real estate with whom I co-listed properties was an African-American woman who I miss working with. She remained with Coldwell Banker when I moved to RE/MAX Alliance before starting Golden Real Estate.

My seven broker associates are all white, but they and I would welcome with open arms one or more African-American and Hispanic agents to join our ranks.  It is hard to say why our industry has not attracted more African-Ameri-can brokers, but I’ve noticed a large contingent of Hispanic agents, who even have a highly active association.  I’ve attended their events.

For this column, I interviewed two of the three blacks who serve on the 18-member board of directors of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors. That ratio, it should be noted, is better than the ratio of blacks who are members of DMAR.

Milford Adams, managing broker of Lyons Realty Group LLC in southeast Denver, told me that economics are the primary reason there aren’t more blacks in the industry, since it’s hard for a new agent to get established in the business without significant cash reserves. (I know this personally, since it was two years of expenses exceeding income before I myself started making a living in real estate.)  And, yes, he said he has experienced discrimination, much of it subtle, at every turn as he himself rose through the profession.

Lori Pace, of Kentwood Real Estate in the City Properties office in downtown Denver, has been an activist within the profession and operates a strategic consulting business, offering training to real estate brokerages (see her website, www.LoriPace.com) in the area of recruitment and diversity training.  On that website you can also watch her TEDx talk “Philanthroperty,” which was about inspiring women, not just minority women, to invest in “real estate, not purses,” to grow in wealth and power.

The following was submitted by Lori Pace regarding the program she teaches on diversity:

Everyone’s experience matters and how we live, make a living, and lose lives. There is no such thing as a stupid white question, but there is certainly are intellectual black answers. The Diversity Difference is an essential wellness program illustrating how real estate and health equity impact everyone’s ability to breathe or exhale. 

The Diversity Tool Kit is THE ventilator allowing everyone the opportunity and right to exist and not resist.  It is designed to develop a multicultural, multi-generational mindset. The live and virtual keynote address combines a training series with first-hand accounts and stories on doing business while being Black in America.  It is more than a call to action. It is a collaborative, result-driven process tackling multi-layers of problems and resolutions examining metrics, business strategies, and tools for real-life situations.  Passive conversations become proactive actions.

This is a resource to ensure strategic, proactive, and sustainable ACTIONS that can be implemented immediately.  The agenda is based on an inspirational and REAL approach providing new perspectives for all industries, organizations, and institutions ready to implement a blueprint from a black perspective.

Participants gain a new outlook and opportunity to breakdown and understand how systematic racism in businesses and communities continues to be influenced by the power of segregation and money. Transparency and trusting safe cultures are non-negotiable in order to move forward. The experiential learning deals with Fair Housing and intentional and unintentional Unfair Business Practices. It is time to invest in business, social and emotional “Black and Blue Print” to change your PACE unapologetically with a high return on your investment.

The Real Estate industry and brokerages are major players influencing ALL communities, neighborhoods, business, and institutions.  There is a new demand for answers to awkward questions and circumstances requiring a no-judgment solution. Now more than ever, the world is aware of the negative impacts of silence and ignoring the blinders that have been abruptly removed.