by Lisa Cyriacks
In early May Notices of Valuation were mailed to all property owners in Saguache County. Controversies in valuations over the past couple of years, including a lawsuit against the County, have increased awareness by property owners of what these valuations might mean when it comes to next year’s property tax bill.
“The valuations I am aware of appear to more of the same arbitrary, across-the-board valuations that were driven by the State for 2011 and 2013,” property owner Elaine Johnson stated. Johnson was one of several property owners that participated in a lawsuit that was settled in a 2014 in favor of the property owners by Saguache County.
Peter Peterson, the newly elected County Assessor, acknowledges he has a big job sorting through a myriad of problems created by the database and historical inaccuracies. Not to mention the learning curve.
“Property owners need to understand that I am confined by statutes as to the amount of leeway I have in issuing valuations,” Peterson commented. “I am willing to work with any property owner who thinks their valuation is not fair, within those limitations prescribed by statute. I have already corrected some valuations that had square footage incorrect or the year of construction wrong or the grade (i.e. condition of the house) listed inappropriately.”
Peterson describes what he believes drove the valuations for 2015, “Across the state, the trend was that land values went down, and house values went up. We (the Assessors) believe that the drop in mortgage interest rates drove the process of people being able to afford houses and pay more for houses. Lenders do not typically lend on vacant land.”
According to local realtors, that message does not seem to correlate with their experience in the local market. Land values are dropping. The County Treasurer has a long list of lots the County is reclaiming due to unpaid taxes. Houses are selling, but at discounted prices—some after years of being on the market. Not at increased rates, as seems to be indicated by reported increases across the board in the property valuations received by the community.
Peterson asserts, “Across the board the county-wide sales data collected shows a 36% increase from the last reappraisal period. That 36% has been adjusted slightly for each of the five economic areas defined in the county. Residential valuations are market-driven. As Assessors, we cannot do fee appraisals on individual properties, we only look at sales data. For this cycle the County looked at two years worth of sales data for its statistical analysis.”
From previous experience, property owners learned from the State that an “across-the-board” approach is commonly used. Then the system relies on individual owners filing protests to correct the anomalies based on specific factors about their homes: age, size, and condition.
“There are a lot of anomalies and glitches in the Pueblo system,” Peterson acknowledges. “A lot of effort over the past couple of years went into updating vacant properties with improvements, but I have discovered errors in data and how it was entered into the system. I am already talking to the County commissioners about acquiring a new software system for the next cycle of valuations in 2017.”
Elaine Johnson, one of the property owners who filed a lawsuit over 2013 valuations made herself available to assist property owners in completing protests over valuations at a presentation on May 26.
Protests needed to be postmarked or delivered to the Assessor’s office on or before June 1. The assessor must make a decision on your protest and mail a Notice of Determination to you by the last regular working day in June for real property. If you are dissatisfied with the Assessor’s decision, you may appeal to the County Board of Equalization by July 15.
Property tax revenue
Property tax revenue supports public schools, county governments, special districts, municipal governments, and stays within the county.
Each year county commissioners, city councils, school boards, governing boards of special districts and other taxing entities determine the revenue needed and allowed by law by their entity to provide services for the following year. Each taxing authority calculates a tax rate based on the revenue needed from property tax and the local assessed valuations for real and personal property located in their boundary.
Public notices of budget hearings are published in the local newspaper. The public hearings are usually scheduled in September or October. By attending budget hearings, taxpayers may participate in the budget process and become informed about the quality and cost of services provided in their area.
The Assessor’s goal in years of re-evaluation should be to establish accurate values of all property located within the county, which in turn ensures that the tax burden is distributed fairly and equitably among all property owners.
A senior property tax exemption is available to senior citizens and the surviving spouses of senior citizens. The State reimburses the local governments for the loss in revenue. When the State of Colorado’s budget allows, 50% of the first $200,000 of actual value of the qualified applicant’s primary residence is exempted. Forms are available online at the State Property Tax Division and at the local assessor’s office. Completed applications should be submitted to the assessor on or before July 15 of the year for which exemption is requested
A property tax exemption is available to qualifying disabled veterans and their surviving spouses. Completed veteran applications must be postmarked or delivered to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs by July 1 of the year exemption is requested.