Mack disputes claims made by ex-employee |

Mack disputes claims made by ex-employee

Scott N. Miller

EAGLE – Did Eagle County Assessor Joyce Mack help a couple who contributed to her last election campaign lower their property taxes?Mack says no. A former employee says she did.Records from the Eagle County Assessor’s Office show that on Sept. 16, 2003, a Beaver Creek home owned by John and Virginia Forstmann was valued by the county at just less than $2.6 million. The next day, the value was just less than $2.3 million.The Forstmanns, who had contributed $1,000 to Mack’s successful 2002 run for the Assessor’s Office, had twice appealed the county’s opinion of their home’s value. They were turned down both times before the change was made.The drop in the home’s value showed up on the Forstmanns’ tax bill. Before the decrease, the Forstmanns’ taxes for 2003 and 2004 would have been $14,800 per year. After the drop, their tax bill for those two years was $13,033 per year, about $35 less per year than the tax bill for 2002.The record for the value recorded on Sept. 17 also contains a note that the change was made “at the direction of the assessor.”Mack denies that.”That’s a lie,” Mack said. “That wasn’t done at anybody’s direction at all,” she said. “I didn’t make anybody change their values.”A former employee says that’s not right.”After the second denial, Joyce repeatedly asked us to reduce the value. I declined,” said Jon Harrison, the former chief appraiser in the office. Harrison resigned in 2005 and moved out of Colorado earlier this year. “She went directly to the appraiser on the case and told her to change it.”Harrison’s version of events is backed up by Mark Chapin, the former deputy assessor. Chapin, a Democrat from Eagle, is running this year for the assessor’s job.”That’s exactly what happened,” Chapin said. Chapin said he and Harrison told Mack there was no basis for dropping the value on the Forstmanns’ home.Mack has a different view.”Changes were made that were appropriate to other people,” Mack said, referring to two other homes in the Forstmanns’ neighborhood, owned by Ernest Elsner and H. Russell Bowers. The values on both of those homes were lowered from the original 2003 county appraisal.The appraiser’s note on the file for Bowers’ home – written in December of 2003 – states the value was lowered before an arbitration hearing. The note on Elsner’s home – written in August of 2003 – states that and other Beaver Creek homes built in the 1980s “were found to be overvalued based on sales information available.”Virginia Forstmann, who wrote the checks to Mack’s campaign, said she and her husband felt at the time their home wasn’t valued properly.”We have one of the oldest homes in Beaver Creek,” Forstmann said. “We were assessed compared to houses that were built much later.Asked if she believed her campaign contribution had anything to do with the reduction in her tax bill, Forstmann said “No, not at all.”Our value went up 35 to 40 percent in the last valuation (in 2005) and that was under Joyce, too,” Forstmann added. “I don’t think there’s any favoritism.”But Harrison believes that the note on the Forstmanns’ file is unique, or at least very rare.”This is the only one I know of,” he said. “That’s what made it so unusual at the time.”==================The job: Eagle County AssessorWhat that means: The assessor’s office sets the taxable value of all property in the countyWho holds it: Republican Joyce MackWho wants it: current employee Ed Smith (R) and former employee Mark Chapin (D)What it pays: $62,000 per year, which will go to $75,000 next year================How property values are determined:By state law, county assessors’ offices use a complicated formula to figure property values every two years. That formula includes the prices paid for similar property in the same neighborhoods.People who challenge the county’s numbers can appeal first to the Assessor’s Office, then to the County Board of Equalization, a group that works for the county commissioners. Other appeals can include going to state officials and to district court.County Assessor Joyce Mack has been in office for two value-determing cycles, 2003 and 2005.=====================Changes in Beaver CreekAt issue is changes in value for three properties, owned by John Forstmann, H. Russell Bowers and Ernest Elsner. All three property owners saw their taxes decrease from 2002 to 2003. Here are the changes:20022003Forstmann: $13,069$13,033Elsner: $17,865$16,523Bower: $15,440$15,177===================Changes in valueAssessed value of all property in Eagle County, 2002 – 20052002: $2.156 billion2003: $2.129 billion2004: $2.165 billion2005: $2.364 billion=======================AppealsHere’s a look at the number of appeals from 2002 through 2005. Appeals include those handled through the Assessor’s Office and the County Board of Equalization, a committee hired by the county commissioners. Most were handled through the Assessor’s Office, with second appeals going through the board of equalization. The numbers don’t add up; the remainder of appeals were cleared through other agreements.2002ProtestsDeniedAdjusted5703282382003*ProtestsDeniedAdjusted3,9152,3901,4302004ProtestsDeniedAdjusted6072533522005*ProtestsDeniedAdjusted3,0511,3401,665*Re-assessment years.======================Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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