Gilpin County Corner

Roger Baker, County Manager. Though I’m writing this in late September, most folks will be reading it during the first week of October. The leaves will continue to fall, snow clouds will gather on the horizon, and ballots will be mailed out next week (October 14 or so) from the Clerk & Recorder’s Office to every eligible voter in Gilpin County.

We’ll have more time to talk about the ever-more-complicated voting options in another column (or you can check the Clerk’s election page on the County website), but I thought I’d take one more shot at addressing the potential impacts of Amendment 68 on the County’s finances.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to look at the assessment history of the County from before gaming up to the present day.

In 1900, Gilpin County’s population was at its all-time high of almost 6,700 residents: of those, 1000 lived in Black Hawk, and 2,500 in Central City.

Shortly thereafter mining and milling collapsed, and by 1930 there were just 1,200 County residents, of whom 250 lived in Black Hawk, and about 575 in Central.

Over the following decades the cities’ populations remained relatively constant, but the County’s population overall actually declined, from 1,625 in 1930 to just 685—cities included!—in 1960.

Then came the mountain subdivision boom of the 1970s—County population doubled by 1970, then doubled again by 1980, growing to over 3000 by 1990.

The assessed valuation of the County followed a similar pattern—the new residences in unincorporated areas of the County became the dominant tax base of the County. By 1991, the total assessed valuation for Gilpin County was around $35 million, of which just over $4 million was in Central City, and less than $2 million in Black Hawk.

Then (on July 1, 1991) gaming started, and the trend reversed dramatically. Although resident populations didn’t grow a great deal in the two towns, the increased values on gaming-eligible land and the huge casino developments completely inverted the equation.

The total County assessed valuation was just under $340 million in 2013—that’s a ten-fold increase in a little more than two decades.

The assessed value of Central soared to a bit over $32 million last year, or about what the total County valuation was in 1991.

And Black Hawk’s valuation simply exploded, to nearly $250 million. That’s more than 100 times the City’s total valuation in the year before gaming started.

All this meant that the tax burden on the individual Gilpin County homeowner fell dramatically. The total County mill levy in 2013 was just under 8 mills; in 1991, it was four times higher, at 33 mills.

And the road & bridge part of that 33 mills was about 6.3 mills; today the road & bridge mill levy is less than 1.

There are of course other ways to demonstrate the County’s dependence on the gaming industry. And no one can deny that being dependent on one industry is risky.

But this is one way to compare the way things were, to the way they are now. I personally like today a lot better. Running a one-room library in a tiny cabin with no indoor plumbing was kind of fun, but it really couldn’t provide the sort of services the citizens of Gilpin County deserve. And that example—though extreme—could be multiplied many times over as County services have become more professional and more wide-ranging.

The first full week of October also marks the start of the County’s annual budget hearings. As always, they will be interesting. And depending on the results of this year’s election, they may also be irrelevant.