Tax me? No, tax you!
PITKIN COUNTY Pitkin County Assessor Tom Isaac doesn’t want any surprises at tax time next year.That’s why his department published a newspaper insert explaining the massive increase in 2007 property taxes and what it means to property owners. (The insert will run Friday in The Aspen Times.)Every two years, the county assessor evaluates some 14,000 area commercial and residential properties, and the numbers always go up. But this year’s increase is unique, Isaac said.”It’s extraordinary,” Isaac said. “It’s unprecedented in my 16 years here.”Property tax rates for a $5.3 million home – the median property price in Aspen – will increase from $10,400 last year to an estimated $14,000 this year.Because the community is small, and homes in Aspen and Pitkin County have such high values, property tax rates are lower in the area than in the rest of the country (as much as 10 times lower). But property values in the valley are rising by about 1 percent per month, making 2006 property taxes especially high, unlike anywhere else in the state, Isaac said.When preparing a tax bill, tax authorities multiply the assessed value of a property – the actual value multiplied by 7.96 percent – then multiply by mill levies, or tax rates, for area tax districts, including hospital and fire protection districts, and city and county taxing bodies like parks, open space and metro areas. The totals from each district make up the bottom line on a property tax bill.Isaac said this year’s increase is “good news and bad news.” While homeowners are making a return on property investments, prices mean living in Aspen is beyond reach for most locals, and increasing property taxes are an increasing burden.”Can the people who’ve been here a long period of time continue to pay their tax bill?” Isaac asked. That is his concern, and that’s what prompted him to inform the public.And many property owners are not covered by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR amendment, according to the assessor’s department insert.The amendment, which Colorado passed in 1992, limits tax increases to the rate of inflation plus the rate of growth in the tax base, and taxing authorities must lower mill levies to meet these limits.But many area taxing district have fixed mill levies, which means that if your property doubles in value, so do your property taxes.”Everybody has an opportunity to appeal,” Isaac stressed. From May 1 to June 1, his door on the first floor of the county courthouse is open, he said – but not for people who want to complain about high tax rates and mill levies. “I don’t want people to come in here and say, ‘I’m paying too much in taxes,'” Isaac said.Isaac’s department finds the assessed value of a home, and he invites property owners to come in and sit down with an appraiser to discuss the appraised value of their homes, not their tax bill.”If someone thinks [their assessed value] is incorrect, we want to know,” Isaac said. But tax bill complaints are a matter for public representatives.Elected officials who sit on the boards of tax districts set annual mill levies (or tax rates), and Isaac said that with this year’s increases, many tax districts will experience a windfall.”It’s up to the community to decide what is a necessary level of taxation and government services,” Isaac said. And that means going to elected officials with any gripes about high property taxes.”And it just happens to be a City Council election time,” Isaac said.Property owners shouldn’t be shocked about the higher assessments if they’ve been following Aspen’s real estate market at all over the last few years, Isaac said. However, he wants to get the word out now before locals escape mud season and second-home owners desert Aspen when the airport closes.Isaac will record a half-hour show on GrassRoots TV that will run periodically for the next few months, and he said he and representatives from the assessor’s office are available to talk with business groups.”It really is going to affect the community,” Isaac said. And homeowners and businesses need to respond quickly. “By the time you get your tax bill, it’s a done deal.”Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.