CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — Buying a new home in Castle Rock could soon be more expensive. The town council is considering a ballot initiative that would increase taxes on new builds by up to $7 per square foot for single and multi-family homes.
The ballot question is one of four initiatives the town council is considering, asking voters to help fund some of its growth. If approved, the tax on new homes is projected to raise roughly $13.9 million annually and help fund an expansion of emergency services.
Over the past decade, Castle Rock, like much of the Front Range, has seen significant growth, with a nearly 33% increase in population size.
The Castle Rock Police Department has been able to add some officers over that time but says it needs even more staff to be able to keep up.
“We don’t have the numbers of officers that we need for the next five years going forward considering the amount of growth that we are expecting,” Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley said.
Increasing populations means more calls for service and more need for officers to do everything from responding to traffic crashes to investigating property crimes.
Currently, the town has about 1.05 officer per every 1,000 residents, a lower rate than many other Front Range communities. In comparison, Parker has 1.31 officers per 1,000 residents, while Longmont has 2.01 officers per 1,000 residents.
Cauley said his officers have also been trained to spend more time with people on calls to build community trust and demonstrate empathy, so calls for service might take longer than other police departments.
He estimates he would need another 34 employees to be able to keep up with the projected growth, as well as an expansion to the police headquarters to house all of the new employees eventually.
“If we don’t add any more officers, even in the next couple of years we will drop below 1.0 officers per thousand, and that’s just an unacceptable rate,” Cauley said. “To continue to keep Castle Rock as one of the safest communities in Colorado, we’re going to need more resources and more officers.”
Over at the Castle Rock Fire Department, Chief Norris Croom said his staff is also being stretched to the max.
“As we continue to see the growth, we have seen those response times increase as with the call volumes increase because more people generally do more calls,” Croom said.
The new builds pose their own set of unique challenges since many have open floor plans and are made of lighter weight construction materials, meaning they burn faster and collapse more quickly. That’s why a quick response time is key.
Croom does not believe the growth of the fire department is keeping pace with the growth of the community. It has added only one new station over the past 15 years.
Currently, the Castle Rock Fire Department has five stations and 78 firefighters. Along with protecting the town of Castle Rock, the department is also responsible for protecting 32 square miles of fire protection district that surrounds the town.
The fire department can only handle one structure fire at a time or up to three medical assists. After that, it needs to call in neighboring fire districts to help.
Croom says the department needs a sixth station in the northeast part of town and has identified areas in the community that could face a slower response time without it.
CRFD is also requesting an additional 41 employees to keep up with the growth.
“Really, we’re at the breaking point right now,” Croom said.
The ballot question only applies to newly constructed homes and, if approved, would go into effect in January 2022. It also allows for the rate to be adjusted for inflation without voter approval higher than the $7 per square foot mark, in accordance with the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers in the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood statistical area.
However, the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver worries the proposed tax could price more people out of the housing market at a time when prices are already unaffordable for many.
In Douglas County, the median price of a single-family home has increased by 21% from last July.
“What we’re looking at now is an additional $15-$25,000 that new residents are going to have to pay if they want to purchase a home in Castle Rock, which makes it prohibitively expensive for thousands of Coloradans,” Morgan Cullen said.
The current impact fee for new homes in the town is around $15,800. The tax increase would nearly double that cost.
Cullen says Castle Rock is already one of the most expensive municipalities to own a home, and this measure would make it the most expensive municipality to purchase a home in the entire Front Range.
Beyond that, Cullen says it’s unfair that current residents will be voting on a measure that doesn’t necessarily affect them.
“They’re going to see the benefits of increased public safety services within the municipality, but it’s going to be future residents that have to pay for the entire thing,” he said.
He also thinks it could price out some of the same workers the town is trying to help, like first responders.
“I think there’s a certain demographic that are still going to be able to purchase homes there, but your bar owners, your coffee barista and the firefighters and police officers that they want to support, they’re not going to be able to purchase a home. Where are they supposed to live?” Cullen said.
Instead, he would like to see the burden fairly spread among Castle Rock residents so that everyone pays a little more for the increase in services rather than future residents taking on the entire cost themselves.
Right now, the average Castle Rock resident is paying roughly $40 in property taxes.
The town council is also debating a 6% increase to the lodging tax for overnight visitors. The increase would result in roughly $7.50 in taxes for a $125 per night stay.
The revenue would be used for the town’s park and recreation services, as well as its maintenance operations and hiring more employees to help with the upkeep.
Another ballot measure would increase the sales tax for the town by one cent per $10 to be used for open spaces and trails.
A fourth and final proposed ballot measure would create a 10-year timeout from revenue restrictions for the state’s TABOR law. TABOR limits the amount of revenue governments can collect and spend in any given year. The TABOR timeout would allow the city to keep more of the tax revenue it collects. The money would be used for emergency services and to help fund the construction of the I-25 interchange at Crystal Valley Parkway.
If the ballot measures are approved by town council Tuesday, voters would need to give the final approval in November.