Denver’s Bond Measure Target Could Hit $900 Million After Boost to Property Values

Denver’s planned ballot measures asking voters to approve borrowing for city projects could grow to as much as $900 million because of new tax assessments, a city finance official said Tuesday.

The new projected range — $800 million to $900 million — is a heady increase from the $500 million to $600 million in projected bond capacity previously cited by Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration.

But that was before new property valuations were released Tuesday by metro area assessors.

While city officials say they’re aiming to ask voters in November to simply extend the same property tax rate used to repay the previous package of bond projects, approved in 2007, property values shot up in the new assessments. That means the same rate would raise significantly more money.

It’s welcome news for committees of Denver residents that for weeks have scrutinized long lists of potential transportation, parks, cultural and municipal building projects, each one backed by fans in city government and the community. They’ll be weighing priorities for road projects and bike lanes, long-sought libraries and recreation centers, new police and fire stations, and other needs large and small.

The higher target range could allow them to include more projects.

But another consideration will face an executive committee that in coming weeks will cull the four stakeholder committees’ list of recommended projects — as well as Hancock and the City Council: Will voters approve such a big price tag?

After all, even if the proposed tax rate for the bonds remains the same in the new 10-year plan, many homeowners would perceive it as a tax increase — because they’d be paying more.

“We’ve seen some historic growth numbers,” Denver’s chief financial officer, Brendan Hanlon, told The Denver Post. “I think we just want to be cautious and make sure they’re sustainable. … There’s going to be a greater affordability conversation that I’m sure we’ll be having — especially for those neighborhoods that have seen the steepest (assessment) increases,” which have tended to hit lower-income neighborhoods hardest.

Hanlon said the revised projection for bonding capacity takes into account the new property valuations, which cover a two-year period through June 2016, as well as other factors such as a state law requiring adjustments between commercial and residential values. That law will deliver some tax relief to homeowners.

In values to be used as the basis for 2018 property tax bills, the median single-family home’s value in Denver will increase by nearly 26 percent. Assessment increases amount to 45 percent for the median multi-family property and 20 percent for the median commercial property.

Hanlon has been briefing council members about the new projections and planned to present the information to the 2017 bond issue executive committee at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

This story will be updated.