Pitkin County receives annual tax valuation
PITKIN COUNTY ” It’s a foregone conclusion that property taxes will likely increase next year but by how much will be up to local taxing districts, who may experience a windfall this year.
The assessor’s office recently completed its valuation of all properties in Pitkin County and the results are staggering: Actual property values in Pitkin County increased from $18.2 billion to $26.2 billion in one year, according to Pitkin County Assessor Tom Isaac, with assessed values having increased by almost $1 billion.
Assessed values, which are what tax bills are based off of, went from $1.9 billion in 2006 to $2.7 billion. For Pitkin County, that reflects a 42.2 percent increase. For the city of Aspen, the increase is 45.22 percent and 35.88 percent for Snowmass Village. The Aspen school district saw a 43.03 percent increase and Basalt had a 21.08 percent spike.
As special taxing districts set their budgets in the upcoming months, elected officials may choose to reduce their mill levies, keep a partial windfall, or leave the mill levies unchanged and have a substantial surplus.
On an individual’s tax bill, there is a separate line item for each taxing district such as the school districts, the fire protection district, municipalities and the county. The taxes paid to each district are based on the owner’s assessed value multiplied by the mill levy, which is set by the district. The totals from each district make up the bottom line on a property tax bill.
A mill levy is a percentage that represents the district’s total budget revenue, divided by the total assessed value for all properties in the district.
“Each of these taxing authorities have now received their total assessed values. … The question is ‘are they going to adjust their mill levies?'” Issac said. “They have an opportunity to take the windfall and we’re talking about a lot of money.”
Taxing districts have until mid December to certify their levies to the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners before tax bills are sent out in January.
Every two years, the county assessor evaluates some 14,000 area commercial and residential properties, and the values typically go up. But the percentage of the increase this year is unique, Isaac said.
That’s why he sent a letter to all citizens in a newspaper insert this past March, explaining to property owners to prepare for significant value increases ” as much as 50 percent for residential properties and even more for commercial.
The Taxpayer’s Bill Of Rights amendment, which Colorado voters passed in 1992, limits tax increases to the rate of inflation, plus growth in the tax base from new construction. Taxing authorities must lower mill levies to meet those limits.
But many property owners are not protected by TABOR, according to the assessor’s department. While TABOR prohibits taxing authorities from receiving a windfall in new revenues when property values go up more than CPI inflation, many of Pitkin County’s taxing districts are exempted by that limitation based on prior approvals from voters. Also, some area taxing districts have fixed mill levies, which means that if a property doubles in value, so do the property taxes.
However, that doesn’t mean those taxing districts must capitalize on the windfalls. Elected officials who sit on the boards of tax districts set annual mill levies, or tax rates, and can be held accountable by the public.
“We encourage our citizens to discuss and decide what the appropriate level of taxation and local government services for the Roaring Fork Valley should be and to communicate with their elected officials this fall during the budget process,” Isaac wrote in the March letter.
About 2,100 people protested their assessed valuations, of which the majority involved real property. Isaac said about a third of them were adjusted and about 20 percent ” or 385 property owners appealed the assessor’s decision to the Pitkin County Board of Equalization. Pitkin County hired two hearing officers to hear the protests and appeals, which were finalized in July.
Because the community is small and homes in Aspen and Pitkin County have such high values, property tax rates are much lower than the rest of the state and the country. With property values in the valley rising by about 1 percent a month, this year’s property tax increases could be unusually high, Isaac said.
“As compared with other areas of the country, on a per property basis, we’re not be touched,” he said of rising real estate values.
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