Pitkin County commissioners won’t step in on property values
July 29, 2009
ASPEN – After a presentation on the complicated method used to appraise the value of every taxable property in Pitkin County, county commissioners decided Tuesday not to intervene in the process.
Rather, commissioners, acting as the county Board of Equalization, ratified the first batch of property value appeals on a 3-1 vote with Commissioner George Newman dissenting and Commissioner Rachel Richards absent. The appeals involve property owners who protested the value assigned their properties and were not satisfied with the assessor’s response to their protest. The next step is an appeal before a hearing officer acting on behalf of the Board of Equalization; those appeal hearings are ongoing.
“This is very complex,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said. “We could flog this to death forever … but it’s very hard for me to sit here … and challenge the assessor’s office.
“For me, the bottom line at the end of the day is what we pay in taxes,” he said. “I feel it’s incumbent upon all taxing districts, including Pitkin County, to arrive at a fair mill levy. That should be the goal – that we don’t raise the taxes.”
Commissioner Patti Clapper suggested the county compile information on when every taxing district that affects county taxpayers will hold the meeting to set its mill levy, and make that information public. Reducing a mill levy would allow a district to collect the same tax revenues from property that has increased in value.
The county’s overall increase in value won’t be determined until the appeal hearings are finished – a process that won’t wrap up by the Aug. 5 deadline, assessor Tom Isaac said Tuesday. “There was absolutely no way under the sun that was going to happen,” he said.
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The Colorado Division of Property Taxation will allow the assessor’s office to miss an Aug. 25 deadline to determine the value of all property in the county and provide that information to taxing districts so they can set next year’s mill rates. Instead, the appeals that are now under way will finish in mid-September, and taxing districts will get a preliminary figure by Aug. 25 and a revised figure in mid-October that reflects the outcome of the appeals hearings and Board of Equalization determinations, Isaac said.
The assessor’s office faced the “perfect reappraisal storm” when it set new property values and sent out notices in the spring, he said. The values were based on property sales between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2008 – a period when values increased for 18 months and then held steady for the final six months, according to Larry Fite, chief appraiser for the assessor’s office. Since then, the market has slumped.
While the number of sales dropped off in the first half of 2008, which has led some property owners to argue that values were plummeting, sales prices indicated values were holding steady, Fite said.
He also explained the “time-trended value” assigned to properties. If a sale occurred sometime before June 30, 2008, the assessor’s office factored in a rate of appreciation based on what occurred over the entire 24 months for which sales data was considered.
All of the assessor’s methodology is mandated by statute, and the state produces manuals on how to apply the laws, according to Fite. In addition, the state hires an independent auditor to check the office’s work; the auditor’s preliminary conclusion, detailed in a July letter, is that the county is in compliance, he said.
Newman, however, questioned the validity of the appreciation rate and ultimately voted against ratifying the determinations that have been made so far by hearing officers.
“I think there is a flaw in the system,” Newman said.
Aspen banker Charles Israel agreed.
“It is incorrect, and it is unjust,” said Israel, who protested the $10.3 million value assigned to his home and followed up the protest with an appeal to the Board of Equalization.
He is among the many property owners awaiting the results of their appeal – the first batch had been held up by commissioners until they could meet Tuesday with Isaac.
The hearing officer adjusted the value of Israel’s property value downward, to $9.25 million, and it was ratified by commissioners, but Israel said Tuesday the reduction wasn’t enough and he will keep fighting.
“I’m happy they reduced it, but it’s not enough,” he said.
Israel examined both national home price trends dating back a decade, as charted in the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, and monthly home sales documented by Land Title Co. in Pitkin County (excluding fractional residences) back to January 2000.
“Both indicate prices are in a decline, and the decline started in 2006 and has not reversed itself until today (Tuesday’s national report showed a rise in prices),” he said.