by Lisa Cyriacks
Saguache resident Don Geddes has questioned the County Assessor about the ongoing decline in property values, particularly in the Northern Saguache County Library District.
The Library District Board of Directors had met with the County Commissioners on November 15, 2016 to discuss why the District’s taxable Net Assessed Valuation for 2017 is the lowest it has been in the history of the District. Geddes attended that meeting but was dissatisfied with the answers received, so wrote a letter on March 14, 2017 to County Assessor Peter Peterson.
Geddes writes, “Please explain why the property tax revenue for this district and the rest of the county districts’ revenue appear to be significantly down. From your perspective what can be done to restore the lost revenue?”
Saguache County Assessor Peter Peterson responded using the final Net Assessed Valuation that was updated on December 10, 2016. “The certified assessed value for the Northern Saguache County Library District for tax year 2015 was $39,947,175 and the certified assessed value for tax year 2016 was $39,996,173, an increase in assessed value of $48,998. In all reality, the Northern Saguache County Library District should have lost a total of $511,384 in assessed value . . . The increase in value was due to the diligent work of my staff adding new construction properties and other situations within that district.”
Peterson goes on to reference the removal of taxable property specifically from the Baca Grande subdivision due to delinquent taxes. “After 5 years of no payment in taxes, the County takes ownership of the property. The County then offers the property to the public by auction. Not all properties sell that quickly, which means no taxes are paid on said property.” This, combined with the loss of $360,000 in assessed value based on SLV REC equipment that was thought to be located in Saguache County but was actually in Rio Grande County, resulted in the decline of revenue for the library district.
In response to Geddes’ query about what can be done to restore the lost revenue, Peterson replied, “It would take $6,420,351 in actual value in residential classified property to make up the loss the Northern Saguache County Library District had in one year.”
Peterson indicates that he has requested additional funds from the Saguache County Commissioners for one fulltime employee to assist with adding new construction to the property tax roll. Saguache County Commissioner Tim Lovato says the 2017 budget includes an additional $18,000 for a part-time position to assist with the fieldwork necessary to collect data on new construction. According to County Co-Administrator Lyn Zimmer-Lambert, no monies have been expended under this line item year-to-date.
Zimmer-Lambert also confirms that there are currently five full-time employees in the Assessor’s office including Peterson and former Saguache County Assessor Jackie Stephens, who is paid $2,400 monthly with benefits.
2017 is, by statute, a reappraisal year for all classes of property and includes the opportunity to add new construction to the tax roll. Notices of Valuation are mailed May 1 of years ending in an odd number, to give time for property owners to lodge any protests or to request re-valuation. Property values are calculated based on the market, cost, and income information available for analysis.
The statewide annual audit for 2015 shows a total of 2,204 residences in Saguache County. The State Demography Office shows a total of 2,598 households in 2015 for a population of 6,108 (US Census 2010) with an average household size of 2.37. Taking the difference of 394 homes times the median value of owner-occupied units in Saguache County ($142,200) results in $56,026,800 actual value.
In 2012 and 2013, the State Property Tax Division ordered reappraisals specifically for residential improvements that were not added to the property tax roll. At that time, the assessor and her staff were able to complete physical inspections on approximately half the identified residences outside the Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District boundaries and approximately one-third of those within the District.
Numbers from the San Luis Valley Development Resource Group show that Saguache County lags in total valuation behind Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla and Rio Grande Counties by several million dollars. Even though Saguache County has 74.5% in federal lands, it still has over 500,000 acres in private ownership subject to taxation. The only county in the valley that has more acres in private ownership is Costilla County.
In the response letter Peterson also provides a comparative table that shows a decline in value for vacant land in Saguache County of $5,297,309. He attributes that decline to the change in market value for vacant land, especially in the Baca Grande and the Lazy KV Estates subdivisions.
Peterson calculates that properties classified as residential have actually increased $2,945,011 over time while agricultural property has increased very little in assessed value since 2013.
In conclusion, Peterson states, “The value of vacant land is decreasing in the Baca Grande subdivision and the Lazy KV Estates. Also, the price per square footage for residential structures is decreasing due to the sales that transpired during the two year time period our office uses for analysis. At this time I am predicting a drop in value for the entire county as a whole.”
Meanwhile the Northern Saguache County Library District board is concerned about how to fund ongoing services to their patrons. The majority of their operating revenue comes from property tax revenue.