A group of property owners at Storm Mountain Ranch in Routt County is taking its fight to the state level after recent legislation changed the way agricultural land is defined for tax purposes.

Photo by John F. Russell

A group of property owners at Storm Mountain Ranch in Routt County is taking its fight to the state level after recent legislation changed the way agricultural land is defined for tax purposes.

Storm Mountain Ranch owners take property tax appeal to state board

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— A group of Routt County property owners who’ve been affected by recent legislation changing the way agricultural land is defined for tax purposes is taking its fight to the state level.

A 2011 bill that closed a loophole that made Tom Cruise a Colorado rancher has had varying effects on Routt County property owners whose land is involved in agricultural uses.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners, acting as the Board of Equalization, previously denied the appeal of Storm Mountain Ranch owners who would see their tax bills increase, but it allowed a home on Routt County Road 33 to keep its agricultural status despite also being singled out by county assessors as falling under the changes at the state level.

The state legislation, which was intended to prevent getaway homes from abusing agricultural tax status, hinges on the land associated with a residence being “integral to an agricultural operation” to receive favorable tax treatment.

The effect on Storm Mountain Ranch would be the building envelope where the homes sit being taxed at a higher rate while the land associated with ranch staff or agricultural uses staying at the lower rate.

Using a 70-acre parcel in Storm Mountain Ranch as an example, county Assessor Gary Peterson estimated the change in status would result in about $3,750 in additional property taxes on that parcel.

At Marabou Ranch, a similar Routt County ranch preservation subdivision by the same developer, building envelopes lose their ag tax status once construction on a home begins, according to Peterson.

When denying the Storm Mountain Ranch appeal, county commissioners encouraged the property owners to take the decision to the state Board of Assessment Appeals.

The Board of Assessment Appeals is a division of the Department of Local Affairs and is one option for property tax valuation disputes.

Routt County Attorney John Merrill said Monday that Storm Mountain Ranch owners had three options: enter an arbitration process, file a suit in district court or appeal to the Board of Assessment Appeals.

Storm Mountain Ranch owners are scheduled to go before the board for a three-day hearing starting May 13. Of the 14 building sites at the ranch, the 13 owners who have residences on their building envelopes have grouped their appeals and retained attorney Mikaela Rivera to represent them. Rivera was not available for comment Tuesday.

Storm Mountain Ranch HOA board members either declined to comment or did not return requests for comment.

The Board of Assessment Appeals process works much like a trial, Merrill said.

The three-day hearing is a trial de novo — a new trial — where facts are established and the arguments from both sides are heard by at least two members of the board.

The board has eight members who all are certified appraisers with professional experience. Which members will be assigned to a specific hearing is determined only one week in advance. There is one Routt County board member: Amy Williams, of Hayden.

Merrill said the hearing possibly could extend longer than its scheduled three days. The burden of proof is on the petitioner (Storm Mountain Ranch), whose arguments also start the hearing.

The board tries to render a decision within 30 days of the end of the hearing, Merrill said.

If Storm Mountain Ranch owners are unhappy with the decision rendered by the board, they can take their case to the Court of Appeals.

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com

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