Valuation jumps affect taxes

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— Most homeowners here saw an 8 percent to 10 percent increase in the valuation of their property when they opened their envelopes from the Routt County Assessor's Office this month.

For a modest three-bedroom home in a subdivision south of the ski area, the change translated into a $36,000 jump over the 2001 valuation, from $307,850 up to $343,880.

The same home has increased in value by 80 percent since 1995 and more than quadrupled in 15 years.

What remains to be determined is how an increase in valuation ultimately will affect next year's property tax levels. Assessor Amy Williams said barring unanticipated changes in mill levies, there's a good chance most homeowners will not see a painful increase in taxes. That's because the tax ratio that is used to achieve the legal balance between residential and commercial properties went down this year.

"I still don't know what those mill levies will do, and I don't know what the voters will do," in response to any government request to raise taxes, she said.

Residents of Hayden and Oak Creek, or the surrounding school districts, could have a different experience. Unlike Steamboat, they have municipal property taxes and their mill levies are higher than those of Steamboat property owners.

Property owners are entitled to dispute their assessed valuation at any time during the year, but May is the critical month, Williams said. That's because of the timing necessary to preserve a legal right to appeal to the County Board of Equalization. Property owners who wait until after May will have to pay their taxes and wait until next year for a formal hearing for refund of taxes paid.

Many property owners will find out next January that the increase in their valuation has turned out to be revenue neutral or nearly so, Williams predicted. If their property taxes go up (not including voter approval of a new tax measure) it will probably be by a modest margin. Exceptions will be owners of commercial property and some owners of undeveloped land.

If taxpayers see modest to no increase, it will be because of an amendment to the state constitution called the Gallagher Amendment and the broadening base of residential property in Colorado.

The Gallagher Amendment provides that no more than 45 percent of the overall tax burden will be absorbed by residential property owners. The remaining 55 percent must be borne by other types of property, including commercial and undeveloped land.

"It has done a good job of what it was intended to do," Williams said.

The amendment was intended to provide a buffer for homeowners; in Colorado, that buffer is big and cushy because the value of all residential property is increasing at a disproportionately greater rate than that of commercial property.

Simply put, every year, there are more and more residential property taxpayers to pay a share of overall tax. In order to preserve the 45-55 ratio, county assessors apply a ratio that effectively reduces the taxable value of homes in their jurisdiction.


-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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