Local rancher Dorothy Harmant rakes freshly cut hay into rows in 2009 at Storm Mountain Ranch. The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday denied a tax appeal by homeowners in the luxury subdivision who want a favorable agricultural tax status restored to their property.

Photo by John F. Russell

Local rancher Dorothy Harmant rakes freshly cut hay into rows in 2009 at Storm Mountain Ranch. The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday denied a tax appeal by homeowners in the luxury subdivision who want a favorable agricultural tax status restored to their property.

Routt County rejects Storm Mountain Ranch tax appeal

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners, acting as the Board of Equalization, voted unanimously but not without reservations Monday to reject an appeal from a dozen homeowners in Storm Mountain Ranch who want a favorable agricultural tax status restored to their building lots.

The commissioners upheld Assessor Gary Peterson’s ruling under a new state law that found the Storm Mountain Ranch residents themselves were not “integral” to the ongoing agricultural operations at the 1,080-acre luxury development, and thus, the land under their estate homes no longer would be valued for tax purposes at low ag rates.

A one-acre building envelope there now is valued at $1.43 million for tax purposes instead of several thousands of dollars. Original purchase prices for 35-acre lots in 2005 were in the range of $2 million.

While supporting the intent of the new state law, the commissioners also expressed frustration with vague language they said places a difficult burden on local governments struggling to properly apply the law’s provisions.

“The bill makes the same assumption that so much legislation makes,” Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said, “that one size fits all.”

Mitsch Bush was referring to 2011’s House Bill 11-1114, which was sponsored by 27 state legislators in an effort to redistribute the overall tax burden more equitably by removing ag tax subsidies from residential home sites in larger neighborhoods where, in some cases, grazing leases are a means to avoid taxes. The ag status remains on home lots whose occupants actively are engaged in agriculture.

Mitsch Bush said the ongoing hay production and grazing operations at Storm Mountain Ranch, where a full-time ranch manager and several other employees are employed in ag in the midst of a luxury subdivision, make it a hybrid that wasn’t considered when the new law was passed.

Monger encouraged Storm Mountain HOA President Rich Srednecki and his advisers to consider appealing the matter to the state Board of Assessment Appeals to get a clear interpretation of the law.

“I don’t think we’re at the pay level to make this determination,” Commissioner Doug Monger said. “As much as you guys do a good job out there with agriculture and making sure the place looks good, I would say your property and similar property in other counties are part of why this bill came about.”

Neither the county assessor nor the commissioners dispute that Storm Mountain Ranch homeowners are going to considerable lengths and expense to carry on a conscientious agricultural operation on the ranch two miles south of Steamboat Springs where Walton Creek pours out of a steep canyon. Instead, county government is having a difficult time finding that the homeowners fit into the language of the new law, which calls for them to be integral to the farming and ranching that takes place there by “regularly conducting, managing or supervising material aspects of ag operations.”

The question, all agreed, is, What are the definitions of the terms "integral" and "regularly"?

Storm Mountain Ranch Manager Dan Bell said his homeowners meet six times each year and are involved in frequent phone calls having to do with the maintenance of irrigation ditches, fixing of fences and spraying to control weeds on the land. He said the ag portion of the HOA’s annual budget easily could amount to $180,000 per year.

“Operations like (Storm Mountain Ranch) need to be brought into the spotlight,” Mitsch Bush said. “There’s nothing quite like this. This is different from a guy writing a check for a few cows grazing in August.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Terry Noble 1 year, 8 months ago

This simply stinks and is WRONG! My reasoning is way too long for here but it boils down to this: When did we become so desperate and stupid that we have resorted to biting the hand that feeds us? Storm Mountain Ranch IS an important part of the ranching industry as it, at its own expense), provides eco clean water to the Yampa River. I can go on but again too long for here. Point is "nobody" is properly looking on a case basis they just want the money. I can rant on but it boils down to this "WE need to STOP this!!!".

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 8 months ago

Makes sense to me. It was approved as a land preservation subdivision which allowed more residential lots by keeping one larger parcel as an operating ranch.

The question is not whether the larger ranch parcel is a ag, but are the residential lots are also ag. It would seem to stretch common sense that the status of a person's residential lot is affected by their involvement in the operations of a neighboring ranch.

The one thing that is most clear is that ag status was never meant to allow luxury homesites of a developed subdivision to pay minimal property taxes. Ag status was supposed to protect ag properties from the pressures of being developed due to rising property taxes valuing the land for it's development potential. It is a complete abuse of Ag status that a development could expect to qualify for Ag status for luxury homesites.

If this protest makes it to the state and wins then I would expect another attempt by the state legislature to make the luxury homesites be not qualify as Ag.

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Terry Noble 1 year, 8 months ago

Storm Mountain Ranch was built entirely on an eco friendly concept that that family concieved as a model for future growth. They had to have wealthy clients to be able to afford the eco system and maintain it. The houses are constructed under stringent guidelines above the standards of the law. They only sell to those who agree in their contract to abide by their wildlife and eco rule. They provide an easement for migrating elk. They also , at their expense, helped save the fish in town a few years back. They have been major supporters of the community since the beginning. Come on people look at the big picture. Their idea can also be implimented by the not so rich. I don't see the City of Steamboat making any effort to clean up the runoff of the downtown streets or building a couple overpasses for the elk to commute the two highways they can't safely traverse. Come on, wake up before it's too late!

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 8 months ago

Terry, I do not doubt that Storm Mountain is wonderful.

The trouble is the premise that luxury residential homesites deserve Ag status due to what the lot owners do on the adjacent ranch.

If that were to be allowed then any developer could create a development where all the residents get Ag status.

It would appear that all the Storm Ranch property owners could be claiming business losses for their part in running the ranch which is an income tax deduction. It is just a tax break too far to let them claim Ag status for their home sites.

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John Fielding 1 year, 8 months ago

. Scott is right, this is exactly what this law was designed to do. It affects the less eco friendly developments just the same way. If we want to thank or reward SMR for being such good neighbors it must be through other means, not by exemption from this assessment. .

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