How long will the recession go on?

Jeremy's Take: Column by Jeremy Bangs, managing editor

Posted 4/10/09

How long? How deep? Those were the questions floating around the room at one of the first recession discussions I attended late last year. For the …

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How long will the recession go on?

Jeremy's Take: Column by Jeremy Bangs, managing editor


How long? How deep? Those were the questions floating around the room at one of the first recession discussions I attended late last year.

For the most part, these are still the questions sitting out there. No one really knows how deep. How long? We’re not sure, but we’re getting some idea.

Trying to figure all of this out is a matter of watching ripples travel across the economy to see how much they shake job markets, housing markets and other aspects of our economy.

A ripple that we need to pay attention to is the one related to home values as it begins to rock the budgets of local governments.

This year is an assessment year, which means our home values will be reassessed for property tax purposes, as they are every odd numbered year. It’s a rotten time to be in the assessment business, but this year could be a doozy.

We’ve been wallowing in the economy since September or October of last year. Everything that happened before that seems like it happened a lifetime ago. Count your upcoming property valuation as one of those things that happened so long ago.

When your new valuation comes out later this year, it will reflect the value of your home as it was assessed between Jan. 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008. Home values were sliding then, but they weren’t caught up in the full tumble of the economy until after that.

That means a couple of things. One, your property valuation will seem high to you this year. Be kind to your assessor.

Two, the dip in our property values that we’re experiencing in the market right now may revisit us in the form of reduced funding for government services during the 2011 assessment year that paints the property tax picture through 2013.

This is where we start to get a bead on answering the question of, “How long?”

Some estimates in Douglas County anticipate as much as a 20 percent drop in assessed property value in 2011.

What does this mean in terms of funding for government services and taxation? That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with for the past few weeks. If everything before September 2008 seems like ancient history, then figuring out property tax mill levies is calculus.

Each taxing entity, whether it’s a city or a water district, sets its mill levy each December based on the array of spending limitations and expenses requirements that make up their budgets. Some aspects of the mill levy, such as operating expenses, are limited to a certain mill levy by voter approval. Those will bring in less revenue when property values as a whole drop. Mill levies that retire debt fluctuate to generate whatever must be paid.

That’s the broad brush view of this. Trust me, it’s far more complicated than that for each government agency that assesses property tax. There are more than 700 taxing entities in Douglas County alone.

Many of us are trying to keep our heads above water right now. We’re trying to keep our jobs and keep our companies viable, as we should. What you need to take away from this column, though, is that things are happening outside our home-based budgets that may not bode well for the future living here in Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

Our economic situation right now is setting the stage for hard choices we’ll be wrestling with three and four years from now. Last November’s election saw nearly every ballot question asking taxpayers for more money go down in defeat amidst a then new wave of economic fear. Those ballot questions cost facilities for school districts, libraries and numerous other amenities in our communities. In some cases, those no votes shorted staffs and are responsible for today’s public meetings dominated by talks of cutbacks in services. Secondarily, they cost the community amenities that add to our quality of life and, ironically, property values.

It won’t get better on its own. We’re looking ahead to a future where community needs continue to mount as the financial resources to meet those needs seem to be declining with the economy.

As an editor, I’ve often preached the need for civic involvement. I don’t think I’ve ever believed in that need as much as I do right now. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at the impacts some of these districts are preparing for. But we can’t explain it all in all of the detail you need to know. The wide-reaching impact of these changes to our tax-base and the complexity of it all is something you all need to immerse yourselves in.

You don’t need to do this out of some abstract sense of citizenship. You need to do it so the community you enjoy doesn’t erode to the point that you don’t want to live there anymore. There doesn’t seem to be much we can control about the economy at large these days, but we can pay more attention to how it will impact our neighborhoods and cities.

They are worth the investment of time and attention.

Jeremy Bangs is the managing editor of Colorado Community Newspapers. His e-mail address is


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