Pitkin County ups spending for assessment appeals
July 6, 2012
ASPEN – Pitkin County has added another $40,000 to its budget for defending property-value assessments done by the county Assessor’s Office – a worthwhile expense, county officials contend, noting the local government has prevailed in an appeal of the value it assigned to Aspen Skiing Co.’s Little Nell hotel.
In all, 43 Pitkin County appeals or abatement cases have been heard, or will be heard, by the state Board of Assessment Appeals in Denver. The county had budgeted $15,000 for an outside attorney to represent the county Board of Equalization in the appeals process, but the number and complexity of the cases have surpassed what the county has seen in the past. County commissioners agreed earlier this week to put another $40,000 to the effort, though it’s unclear how much of the sum will be needed.
The cases represent $2.5 million in property taxes to be paid, depending on the outcome of the appeals, according to Larry Fite, chief appraiser for the Assessor’s Office.
“There’s a lot of tax dollars at stake, so it’s clearly worth having representation,” he told commissioners.
Since the lion’s share of the property tax revenues collected in the county go not to county government but rather to a host of other taxing districts, the county is actually defending revenues for everyone else, Commissioner Michael Owsley noted.
Among the appeals are several big-ticket property tax assessments, including the one filed on behalf of The Little Nell, Skico’s luxury hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain.
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The county assigned it an actual value of $67.5 million, which was reduced to $55.5 million in an appeal to the county’s Board of Equalization. The agent representing the Nell contended $20 million was the accurate value, but before the state board, the hotel’s representative set the property’s value at $37.7 million, according to Fite. The county stuck with the $55.5 million figure.
The Assessor’s Office learned this week that the state board has upheld the county’s value of $55.5 million for the property. That translates to a property tax bill of $519,148 for the property in 2011 and, presumably, 2012, Fite said. Had the hotel’s value been adjusted to $37.7 million, the property tax bill would amount to $346,062.
“So our effort has been well worth it,” Assessor Tom Isaac said.
Of the appeals coming from Pitkin County, all but six have been settled or at least heard by the state board. Among the yet-unresolved cases is an appeal of the value assigned to the Snowmass Club, another Skico property.
The county put the club’s actual value at $16.4 million; the club set the value at $2 million in its initial appeal. A hearing before the state board is scheduled in October.
There were a number of appeals involving Base Village properties in Snowmass Village, though most have been resolved through a stipulation agreed to by both the county and the property owner, Fite said.
Still outstanding is an appeal by the Viceroy, the Base Village luxury hotel. The county assigned a $111.5 million value to that property, while the owner has argued its value is $23 million. In addition, the county assessed the bulk of the hotel as residential property because the units were to be sold to individual owners, Fite explained.
The hotel’s representatives are asking that the property be assessed solely as a commercial property even though commercial properties are assessed at a higher tax rate than residential ones. Even so, the hotel has estimated the property’s value to be far lower than the county has.
A hearing in the Viceroy appeal has taken place before the state board; a determination is pending.
Also still unresolved is an appeal from the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt. The county has assigned a $19 million value to the private golf and fishing club, which boasts luxury cabins sold in fractional shares. The club’s appeal places the property’s value at about $7 million.