County Board of Equalization adjusts Crestone lots in alignment with tax litigation settlement

by Lisa Cyriacks

Town of Crestone Trustees recently received good news. After three days of hearing in late July and early August, the County Board of Equalization agreed to revise 2014 assessed valuations for “ALL Town of Crestone lots” down. 

July 31 marked the day the Board of County Commissioners, sitting as the Board of Equalization, heard protests from 13 owners. Property owner and protester Elaine Johnson, who recently settled a lawsuit against the county on unfair tax assessments, opened the protest hearing with comments on the discrepancies in Crestone assessments compared to assessments in other communities such as Center, Moffat, Villa Grove, La Garita and Saguache.

Elaine Johnson concluded: “Because this was a settlement, the court did not provide any guidance on future valuations. I believe, however, that the numbers in this settlement may be useful to other property owners as they now have substantiated values to present in any future protests and appeals.”

Property owners who participated in the protest hearings received letters revising land values down from re-evaluations done by the state almost two years ago. Property owners who did not file a protest but are impacted by the decision will receive a notice of determination advising them of the change in value.

On August 4 the Town of Crestone trustees received a letter from the county commissioners that acknowledged the importance of finding a long-term solution to valuing property in Crestone fairly—despite a history of insufficient comparable sales. The commissioners: “Otherwise, whether next year, or in 3 years or 5, we’ll be visited with the same situation again and again.”

The letter speaks to the commissioners’ contention that “speculative, high-end property purchases and development skew property values up dramatically for everyone,” creating a disparity between actual values and those reflected by purchasers who, for one reason or another, pay more than a property is actually worth. 

In addition the commissioners in their letter encouraged the town to develop its own land use mechanisms that influence property values and ultimately taxes, as one possible solution. For a second time, the commissioners offered a work session to the town in order to explore this approach.

The commissioners also expressed their deep concern about the local impacts of the state’s re-evaluation on the local economy. A second proposed solution suggested was to approach the state legislature to approve a tiered taxation plan to equalize local taxes as had happened historically in the early days of the Baca Grande.

Jason Anderson, County Commissioner for Crestone/Baca, explains his thoughts on the decision, “After one year of education, I have a better understanding of the process—especially that the Board of Equalization has more leeway under the statutes than the assessor does. Before I did not realize that I could take into consideration the impact of tax increases on the Town of Crestone. Basically, I do not want to say to my constituents that if they have the money to go to court, then we will lower your tax rate (valuation). After we settled the lawsuit, accepting those values, then we have better reasons to give the State Board of Equalization for our decisions.”

County Assessor Jackie Stephens clarified the process that will be triggered by the steps taken in the protest hearings: “The decision made on August 1st does not automatically affect the 2013 abatements. The Board of Equalization will be scheduling a hearing on those soon.”

The decision to revise all lots in Crestone will be turned over to the state on August 25. Stephens expects to be contacted by Wildrose Appraisers who are conducting the 2014 audit of Saguache County property values which is due to be completed September 15.

In their letter to the Town of Crestone, the county commissioners explain that they have asked any state-ordered appraisal, due to non-compliance, be conducted as part of the normal 2015 reappraisal schedule, under the direction of the county assessor.

Jason Anderson’s comment when asked what he would say to the incoming county assessor regarding 2015 assessments, “That the appraisals be thorough, consistent and fair is of vital importance if we are to address the problem at its root.” 

In Resolution 2014-1 by the Saguache County Board of Equalization (Rec. No. 376902), the Board acknowledged the role played by the Saguache County District Court Case 2013 CV 30024. From the Resolution: “WHEREAS, the Board has had the opportunity to review and consider the information provided as part of the appeal filed by certain property owners in Saguache District Court Case 2013 CV 30024, information by property owners protesting their 2014 valuations, and other information obtained by the Board in discussions with the Colorado State Board of Equalization . . .”

The Resolution goes on to read: “At the meeting on August 1, 2014, the Board of Equalization determined that the value of the properties located in the commercial zone of the Town of Crestone are not properly valued at $36,875 for 50 foot lots . . . that the value for residential property located in the Town of Crestone are not properly valued at $7,000 for 50 foot lots . . .”

The Resolution then instructs Jackie Stephens, the County Assessor, to set the following values for the 2014 tax year in the Town of Crestone:

Commercial 25 foot lots @ $6,250.00 (were $20,000)

Commercial 50 foot lots @ $12,500.00 (were $40,000)

Residential 25 foot lots @ $1,818.75 (were $3,500)

Residential 50 foot lots @ $3,637.50 (were $7,000)

The motion to pass the Resolution was made by Commissioner Jason Anderson, seconded by Commissioner Linda Joseph; they both voted in favor of the Resolution and Commissioner Ken Anderson voted against the Resolution.

Elaine Johnson said, “I still believe that, if they did the valuations correctly throughout Saguache County, they would add an incredible number of improvements to the tax roll, the values across the county would be more fairly equalized, more tax revenue would be generated, and, it would probably pass the audit! If changing values for a small number of lots in the Town of Crestone to make them more consistent with Colorado law and the true fair market values causes the county fail an audit, then the focus needs to be on the remaining thousands of lots throughout the rest of the county.”