Property tax notices come to Routt County

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There are always exceptions, but property owners in Routt County aren't likely to get a shock later this month when property tax notices arrive in local mailboxes.

However, property owners who thought the turbulence in the real estate market would drive down property valuations in time to reduce their 2008 taxes are in for a disappointment.

By law, property valuations for this year's round of taxes were set in May 2006, Routt County Assessor Mike Kerrigan said.

Routt County Treasurer Jeanne Whiddon confirmed last week that her office will send out tax bills in batches spanning three or four days at the end of the month.

Last year's tax bills delivered tax increases in the range of 35 percent for many homeowners, the highest one-year jump in many years.

"First, it was a re-appraisal year, and I took a more aggressive approach than my predecessor," Kerrigan said. "Also, voters have approved some tax-funded initiatives whose effects are being felt."

In most cases, property taxes haven't gone down this year, but increases have been moderate. Typical family homes in Steamboat Springs that are valued between $500,000 and $600,000 are apt to see a $15 increase in property taxes this year, compared to $600 for 2007 taxes billed in January 2008.

Tax bills will vary across the county depending upon where the property is located. For example, Hayden has a municipal property tax, and Steamboat Springs does not.

Kerrigan said a handful of special property taxes are having a direct impact on tax bills.

In recent years, voters renewed the 1.5-mill levy for purchase of development rights, Kerrigan said. Horizons collects 1 mill of tax, and the East Routt Regional Library District collects .98 mills on its construction bond.

The wording of the original ballot language for those property taxes allows taxes to rise unfettered with the county's valuation, instead of ratcheting down under the state's Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, the way other taxes do. Routt County government and the Steamboat II metro district, for example, are constrained by revenue limits.

Inching upward

The mill levy for Routt County's general fund went up from 7.644 on the tax bills for 2007 to 8.277 on the 2008 tax bill that will come in the mail at the end of this month.

County Finance Director Dan Strnad said the small increase in the mill levy can be attributed to three factors. First, TABOR allows governments to increase their levies to account for inflation as determined by the Denver/Boulder Consumer Price Index.

"We had relatively high inflation last year," because of spiking energy costs, Strnad said.

Second, TABOR provides a formula allowing governments to bump up mill levies to account for growth. Although some types of construction slowed last year, there was enough growth to inch Routt County's mill levy upward.

Finally, TABOR allows governments, in times of budget shortfalls, to restore their mill levies to the levels of 1992, when the voters passed the law. After a number of years when Routt County's assessed valuation grew dramatically and TABOR ratcheted its mill levy downward accordingly, Routt County dipped into a savings account of about 5.8 mills to restore a portion of its historic levy, Strnad said.

In spite of turmoil in the real estate markets, property owners likely will not see their property valuation adjust downward for tax purposes for several more years, if at all.

Kerrigan said his office will begin re-valuing properties in May to generate the tax bills that will go out in January 2010 and 2011.

However, they are obligated to look at sales of comparable properties between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2008.

"That coincides with the hottest sales and values in the history of our county," Kerrigan said.

His staff will consider the two-year history of property valuations during that time, from the run-up in 2006 to the peak in July and August 2007 to the flattening of the market that autumn, continuing into a slight decline during the winter of 2007-08.

If one were to chart that timeline as a parabolic curve, he said, the assessor's office will trim off the top of the curve, representing the peak of the overheated values, before valuing properties.

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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