Local property valuations rising more slowly

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— Routt County property taxpayers can expect to see the valuation of their property going up an average of 8 percent to 12 percent when letters from the county assessor appear in mailboxes in May. But that doesn't mean their taxes will necessarily go up. And it doesn't mean there won't be exceptions.

Assessor Amy Williams said this week her staff is nearing the completion of the process of reassessing private property in Routt County for tax valuation purposes.

"This time, we're seeing an

8- to 12-percent increase with 12 percent being the high side," Williams said. "It is significantly less than what we had seen. This doesn't mean your personal tax bill will conform to that range."

In the last three appraisal years (2001, 1999 and 1997), Routt County experienced valuation increases of 25 percent to 30 percent across the board.

The valuation is just the first step in determining 2003 taxes. Tax bills won't be known until actual budgets are compared to the overall valuation of the county. Some residential tax bills actually went down from 1998 to 1999.

Because property is reassessed for tax purposes in odd years, owners did not see valuation increase in the property tax notices that were mailed last month. The amount residential taxpayers saw their bills go up this year varied with the tax district they live in.

The owners of a three-bedroom home measuring 1,800 square feet on Steamboat's west side saw property taxes increase this year by $50.25 (3.7 percent) to $1,415. That's the highest they have been since 1995, but still within $25.20 of what they were in 1997.

Taxpayers will get a glimpse of what's to come in May.

The valuation notices that go out in May will actually be pegged to a new value date of June 30, 2002. That means the valuations will be based on sales of comparable property prior to that date.

The impact of the new valuations will first show up in 2003 tax notices that will be mailed in January 2004.

The projected decrease in the rate at which valuations are rising can be traced to the flatter local real estate market, Williams said. Her appraisers are bound by statute to use the "market approach" to valuing property. That means they rely on sales of comparable property to establish new valuations.

Williams said she's concerned that some taxpayers will incorrectly assume that because the real estate market in Routt County has cooled off in the past 18 months, their valuation will go down. In fact, property valuation isn't based on the total dollar volume of sales in the local market, but on the prices people are ultimately paying, Williams said.

"Sale prices have not plummeted," she said. "It's still up from last time."

It would also be a mistake for taxpayers to conclude from the average valuation increase of 8 percent to 12 percent, that all properties will be within that range. The increase in valuation varies with the type of property and its location, so some increases may be higher or lower than the average, she said.

The good news is that property owners will have an opportunity to challenge their new valuations.

"We're the only part of the overall taxation system where you can actually argue your (valuation notice)," Williams said. "You get to come down and work it."

May is the time to consult with the assessors' office about your valuation notice, Williams said.

Taxpayers should begin by going online, if they can, and studying the "inventory" for their particular property to see if there are any inaccuracies. Her office is also seeing a marked increase in the number of property owners who are researching comparable sales in their neighborhood on the Internet. Another valuable piece of information is the private market appraisals many residential homeowners have undergone during mortgage refinancing.

"Do we always agree with a fee appraisal? No," Williams said. "But it's some of the best evidence we can get."

On the other hand, if a taxpayer informs the assessor's office that he or she had a market appraisal performed recently but is unwilling to share the information, it makes Williams' office skeptical about a disputed valuation.

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