Human tidal wave yet to swamp assessor

June 1 deadline approaches for residents to appeal tax valuation notices

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Thinking of appealing your property's valuation?

You have until June 1 to appeal your valuation to the Routt County Assessor's Office. Visit www.co.routt.co.u..., or call 970-870-5544.

Keep in mind that all property was valued as of June 30, 2008, based on sales that happened beginning July 1, 2006, and continuing through June 30, 2008. Market data you research to challenge your valuation as set by the assessor's office must be from that period in order to be relevant.

If you choose to appeal, the assessor's office has until June 30 to provide you with a determination in writing. If the finding is not in your favor and you decide to appeal further, you have until July 15 for real property and July 20 for personal property to appeal to the Board of Equalization. The members of the BOE are the Routt County Commissioners. Hearings begin in the third week in July. You may direct questions to the commissioner's office at 970-879-0108.

— The number of appeals of property tax valuations received by the office of Routt County Assessor Mike Kerrigan almost has doubled in the seven days since May 20. Kerrigan says he still hasn't seen the high volume of appeals he originally anticipated, but that doesn't mean it still won't happen before the June 1 deadline.

Kerrigan reported 529 appeals May 20 and said, "that's below the pace in prior years. But we've had twice that many inquiries, and it could change dramatically in a day."

The number of appeals had grown to 1,000 by May 26, but Kerrigan's office had prepared for more.

"I expected a tidal wave of people out the door," he said. He hastened to add that the number of property owners contacting his office with questions about the appeals office is several times the 1,000 that have been filed.

The number of pending appeals in Eagle County last week was similar to the number in Routt County.

Eagle County Assessor Mark Chapin told The Aspen Times he had 559 in the books. Chapin couldn't explain why his office hadn't experienced the onslaught he had anticipated, but he predicted they would come in a rush before the end of May.

Eagle County saw more than 5,000 appeals in 2007.

Routt County saw 1,500, Kerrigan said.

The timing of the valuation cycle, which is mandated by state law, and the recession-driven decline of real estate values caused resort community assessors to dread an avalanche of appeals from property owners.

That's because the mandated period of evaluation - the latter half of 2006 through the first half of 2008, captured the peak of a tremendous real estate run-up that saw some types of property in Routt County increasing by 1.5 to 2 percent a month.

When mountain town families, already struggling with employment issues, received their valuation notices this spring, they saw that in spite of the economic downturn, their property values had increased substantially.

It's a trend that seems counterintuitive at first glance. The lag time built into the state mandated appraisal period means property tax appraisals are capturing the peak of the market at a time when prices are in decline.

Garfield County Assessor John Gorman told The Aspen Times that valuations are up as much as 60 percent in Glenwood Springs and surrounding areas. The real estate run-up of 2006 and 2007 and the slump of 2008-09 represent the perfect storm of property valuations, he added.

The Garfield County commissioners are considering hiring temporary hearing officers or referees to screen citizen tax protests before sending potentially valid appeals on to the commissioners acting as the board of valuation.

Kerrigan said the Routt County Board of Commissioners always has preferred to take a more hands-on approach with their constituents who choose to appeal their valuation.

The commissioners, acting as the Board of Equalization, hear all appeals that are pursued beyond the assessor's office.

Kerrigan's staff is taking the time to work closely with every taxpayer who contacts them about an appeal to make certain they understand the process and the factors that could lead to a successful appeal.

"My hope is that we've done our job really well and there won't be a lot of appeals," Kerrigan said.

However, he knows that if a homeowners association associated with a large resort condominium project sought to appeal the valuation of all of the units in the project, the number of appeals suddenly could mushroom.

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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