Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Lawmakers weigh tax aid for disaster victims

The Associated Press Updated: May 6, 2014 at 7:39 pm

DENVER — People who lost their homes and businesses during historic Colorado floods and wildfires last year may still get some relief on their property taxes, but it'll be smaller than initially expected.

The state Senate gave initial approval Tuesday to a proposal to forgive a portion of the property taxes of affected residents. As introduced in the House, the legislation would have had the state paying the property taxes for the entire year on destroyed homes.

But the bill did not have enough support to pass the Senate in its original form, so lawmakers amended it so the state will pay taxes only for the time after a property was destroyed.

"I'm sorry, I wish we could've done more," said Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, one of the sponsors of the bill.

For Democrats, the proposal has symbolic value attached because it was the first bill introduced in the House this year and is supposed to be hailed as a legislative achievement in dealing with the aftermath of last year's natural disasters.

But there was concern that the state shouldn't reimburse people's property taxes for the time when they used their businesses or lived in their homes. Nicholson said changing the bill was crucial.

"If we had not done that, we would've lost the bill entirely," she said.

The measure still needs a final vote in the Senate. The House has already passed a different version of the bill. Nicholson said she expects a bicameral committee will likely need to be formed to resolve differences between the two chambers. They have little time, though, because the legislative session ends Wednesday.

If the state paid for a full year of taxes on properties that were destroyed, the proposal would cost the state $2.2 million. As amended, that amount will be lower, but it's not immediately clear by how much.

The state is footing the bill for the taxes for the portion of the year after properties were destroyed so counties don't bear the burden and miss out on revenue.

September flooding damaged parts of northern Colorado, starting in the foothills and spreading onto the plains. Nearly 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. In the summer, wildfires caused severe damages around the state, with the Black Forest Fire in El Paso County alone destroying nearly 500 homes.

Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said he agreed with the bill in its amended form, calling it "truly fair and truly beneficial in situations where people need it the most."

In addition to people's homes, the bill would cover businesses and the equipment inside that the state charges taxes on.

"An example might be a small cafe that could've suffered severely from the floods last September, and not only lost their building but also many of the inventory inside of their cafe," Nicholson said.

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