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About those property taxes

Kaye Ferry
Vail CO, Colorado

All I can tell you is don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. There is nobody that wasn’t in a state of shock when they received their new property tax valuations.

Mine went up a whopping 52 percent, but as I’ve listened to a lot of friends and general grocery store conversations, I’ve come to conclude that I should be grateful. Apparently increases as much as 75 percent are not unheard of for condo owners who received even larger increases than single-family homeowners.

So armed with my assessment, I started doing some research.

Unfortunately, I found little consolation, but at least there were few ambiguous answers. Here we go ” I hope it helps.

To begin with, there’s no point in directing frustration towards the county assessor.

His office is bound by the Gallagher Amendment to determine new property valuations for the county every two years.

So if you want to conclude that there is a sinister plot somewhere, you’ll have to go all the way back to whoever crafted the Colorado Constitution. Personally, I’m not of the belief that there’s a conspiracy at work.

Once those new valuations are determined, an audit is conducted by the state. In fact, that’s been underway since April. Eagle County is required by law to be within 5 percent of 100 percent of the median price in each class as established through this exercise.

And if they aren’t? The state sends independent appraisers to start the process over and the county foots the bill ” and it’s not a small bill by any measure.

Of course, you know “the county” really means you and me.

That’s the part we do know. According to Mark Chapin, county assessor, what we don’t know will fill volumes and will undoubtedly become the fuel of many lawsuits.

Speculation is that this will most certainly wind its way to the Supreme Court as the effects of new Colorado legislation are weighed against the Tabor and Gallagher amendments. Confused?

Join the club.

In a last-minute effort, the legislature passed a bill that was signed by Gov. Ritter that freezes the mill levies ” which determine property taxes ” in the state as they pertain to education. What this means will ultimately be determined in the courts, but for the time-being, it’s not good.

Because of Tabor’s revenue collection and spending limitations, in the past, as valuations have gone up, the mill levies have gone down in order to satisfy the caps.

The result typically was tax increases that were small compared to the rate of increase in assessed value.

The legislation, as imposed primarily by our illustrious Democrats, will freeze the mill levies at the same time as there are huge increases in assessed valuations.

Worst-case scenario? If your assessed valuation went up 50 percent, your tax bill will also go up by 50 percent. Very scary!

The only good news is that 2007 assessments are based on current real estate sales as of June 30, 2006, which means that all of our properties are worth outrageously more than they were two years ago ” a result of “massive inflation” per Chapin.

Unfortunately that will be of little consolation when it comes time to make those property tax payments to the country.

So what can be done? That seems to be the question of the moment.

Actually there are several things. Keep in mind that the assessor’s job is to determine values, not set taxes. That office is available, however, to answer any questions and they’re extremely polite in doing so even under the circumstances.

And by all means, if you have any idea that your property might be valued incorrectly, appeal.

Who then sets the actual tax? Essentially it is a result of the mill levies. Since the state has frozen the mill levy as it relates to education (which accounts for roughly 50 percent your taxes), your only hope locally is to attend meetings of the elected special district taxing authorities, i.e. fire districts, that control the rest.

During their budget processes in the fall, they will each be setting their individual mill levies. Get in there and demand explanations for expenditures that ultimately control their revenue needs and mill levies.

But probably the most important step you can take is to contact the state and your elected representatives. Enough pressure down there can make a difference.

And with the dollars involved here, it’s worth the effort. Because if you really analyze it, nothing we can do up here will change much.

For the most part, our property values have gone up and that said, the state will assure that the valuations also go up. It’s the law.

The real culprit here is the freeze on the mill levy for education. We can only hope that it is ultimately ruled illegal due to Tabor, but in the meantime it’s a crap shoot.

A byproduct of this fiasco is that taxing entities in the rest of the state may as well give up any notion of convincing voters to approve new tax increases for any reason.

Not only has confidence in elected officials been eroded locally, now a virtual assault on our checkbooks has been waged from Denver and the financial consequences to each taxpayer stand the very real chance of being huge.

And while we’ve benefited for a long time from relatively low property taxes as they relate to other states, an increase of these magnitudes is onerous.

Your involvement is the only possible hope for change.

It’s naive to think you can depend on unchecked elected officials.

Want more info? Go to http://www.eaglecounty.us and click on “Assessor’s Report.”

Also check out “my property value has increased” and on that page you can access colorado budget.com and also get a list of special districts.

Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.”

Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a biweekly column for the Daily.


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