The Mancos Conservation District will be seeking its first mill levy tax in an election scheduled for May.
The district, which oversees a wide variety of water and soil conservation programs in Montezuma County, including the Montezuma School to Farm Project, plans to ask voters to add a half mill to landowners’ property taxes this year.
District manager Gretchen Rank estimated the tax would leverage about $18,000 per year to pay for her organization’s operating costs. Ballots will be mailed to affected property owners at the end of April, and votes will be counted May 8.
Rank said that right now, 90 percent of the district’s expenses are paid by grants, but federal funds for those grants have been shrinking.
“Grant money is getting harder and harder to come by,” she said. “It’s becoming much more competitive.”
Right now, the district is mainly feeling the effects of those funding cuts in its everyday operating expenses. Federal and state funding is still available for many of its projects, like School to Farm, and for outreach events like the district’s educational demonstrations at the Four States Ag Expo, but Rank said most of those grants can’t be used for operating costs.
Conservation districts are allowed to pursue a maximum of half a mill in property taxes to fund their operations, so Rank said her group’s leadership has decided to move forward with a vote on the issue. If the mill levy passes, the district won’t be able to increase the tax rate again.
A volunteer advocacy group, Partners for Ag Education and Conservation in Mancos Valley, is in charge of promoting the mill levy. According to a statement released by the group, the 0.5 mills would add about $7.20 per year to the taxes on a residential property worth $200,000.
In the short term, Rank said, the district hopes to use the extra revenue to repair its headquarters in Mancos, a building that was donated to the district in the 1950s and is starting to show its age. In the long term, she said, the money would help secure the future of the district’s programs in case of more grant funding cuts.
The Mancos Conservation District includes land bordering the Mancos River, which stretches from the New Mexico border to just northeast of the town of Mancos. Everyone who owns property in the district will be eligible to vote on the mill levy.
The mill levy vote is unrelated to the upcoming Mancos municipal election, and Rank said the district isn’t required to have support from the town or county government to move forward with it. But at the town board’s March 14 meeting, district board president Bob Becker asked the trustees for a letter of support for the action. Several trustees said they approved of the idea.
“They’ve done good work in the past, and I think that in order to continue, they need some money,” Trustee Ed Hallam said.
Becker’s wife, Trustee Lorraine Becker, also voiced her support for the mill levy. Town Administrator Heather Alvarez agreed to draft a resolution of support for the mill levy to put on a future meeting agenda.
Rank said district leaders will offer more information on the mill levy at their annual meeting, scheduled for 8 a.m. on April 21. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the Mancos Community Center on Grand Avenue.
The High Desert Conservation District, which also covers part of Montezuma County, will be seeking a mill levy this year as well, but Rank said the two districts don’t overlap.