Grand County will appeal YMCA tax case |

Grand County will appeal YMCA tax case

The Grand County Board of Commissioners has moved to file an appeal in a recent decision to grant Snow Mountain Ranch a full property tax exemption for religious use. The board moved at their Aug. 12 meeting to allow Grand County Attorney Anthony "Jack" DiCola to move forward filing appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals. DiCola had recommended that Grand County Commissioners appeal the decision from the Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals to grant religious use tax exemptions to YMCA of the Rockies, which owns Snow Mountain Ranch. "With taxes, we just want to get it right," DiCola told the Sky-Hi News. "There's really no question that we need an appellate decision on this issue." DiCola, who met with attorneys for Larimer County over the weekend, said during the board meeting that the state constitution contradicts the Board of Assessment Appeals' ruling. "I don't believe the YMCA property is used solely and exclusively for religious purposes," DiCola said. "I believe we should appeal this decision." Larimer County attorneys made the same recommendation to the Larimer County Board of Commissioners at their Aug. 12 meeting, DiCola said. The exemption means that YMCA of the Rockies does not have to pay the more than $200,000 annual property tax bill for its Snow Mountain Ranch Property. It also means that Grand County will have to refund taxes paid in 2002, 2003 and 2004. YMCA of the Rockies, which is headquartered in Estes Park, first applied for religious purposes and charitable use property tax exemptions for two of its properties, Snow Mountain Ranch and the Estes Park Center, in December 2003. The Property Tax Administrator eventually granted both exemptions, though the Board of Assessment Appeals reversed them. The Colorado Court of Appeals vacated the Board of Assessment Appeals' decisions in April 2013. After the appellate ruling, the Board of Assessment Appeals reversed its previous ruling and granted YMCA of the Rockies religious use exemptions. It declined to rule on the charitable exemption. DiCola told the Sky-Hi News that he was frustrated with the Board of Assessment Appeals' decision, and called the board's and the Colorado Property Tax Administrator's handling of the cases a "real failure." He criticized the lengthiness of proceedings and the Board of Assessment Appeals' decision not to rule on the charitable use exemption. DiCola did say that he believed the counties had a chance for a successful appeal. "I wouldn't recommend that we appeal it if I wasn't at least optimistic," DiCola said. Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

Grand County Snow Mountain Ranch property retains tax exempt status

The local governments of Grand County derive their funding from multiple different sources from sales taxes to licensing fees to grants from the State and Federal government. But the single largest share of most of the tax revenue used to operate our governing institutions comes from taxies levied on property. For several years now the tax status of the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch property in Grand County has been in a sort of legal limbo as County officials have filed legal challenges to its tax-exempt status. All that changed recently when the Colorado Supreme Court decided not to review a Colorado Court of Appeals decision declaring the YMCA properties in both Grand and Larimer Counties as tax-exempt. The decision by the Colorado Supreme Court not to review the Court of Appeals decision means the lower court ruling, which declared the YMCA properties as tax-exempt, stands. That means Grand and Larimer Counties have no further legal recourse to contest the ruling. PAYBACK The governments of Grand and Larimer Counties will now be required to return previously taxed monies, derived from taxes levied on YMCA properties during 2002, 2003 and half of 2004, to the YMCA. For Grand County alone that figure is roughly $1.3 million. The East Grand School District accounts for the single largest portion of the total repayment figure at around $620,000. According to officials from East Grand a significant portion of the repayment costs are derived from interest accrued on the funds that were taxed in 2002, 2003 and 2004. While the decision by the Colorado Supreme Court not to review the Court of Appeals ruling ends potential legal challenges to the tax-exemption of the YMCA there has been no formal ruling on how to move forward and officials are still working out the specifics of how repayment will be handled and when. Grand County Manager Lee Staab sent an email to the Grand County taxing entities affected by the Colorado Supreme Court decision on Tuesday Dec. 6. The affected entities include: Grand County, the East Grand School District (EGSD), the East Grand Fire Protection District, the Fraser Valley Metro Recreation District, the Middle Park Water Conservancy District, the Grand County Library District and the Colorado River Water Conservancy District. In the email sent to local taxing entities Staab states, "The affected governments must refund taxes collected in 2002, 2003, and the first half of 2004, plus interest." Staab goes on to state, "The next step for the Board (of County Commissioners) is to arrange a meeting with you, the affected taxing districts, to discuss scheduling of repayment to the YMCA the taxes received in prior years and the accrued interest." EAST GRAND Officials from the EGSD are not quite sure how all this will shake out. "We have a lot of options we still need to look at," said EGSD Superintendent Frank Reeves. "At worst it will get paid next year by the County withholding tax money they would have sent to us." Reeves went on to explain the EGSD could potentially have their share of the repayment covered by funds from the Colorado State Department of Education. "We are really no fault in this at all," Reeves said. "We don't decide who is taxed, we just collect the money that is taxed." But Reeves added, "We met with our attorney's last week to find out what options we have to repay this and quite honestly to see how we can prevent it from being a burden on the taxpayers." HISTORY The current iteration of the YMCA tax-exemption legal battle was initiated in the spring of this year when Grand and Larimer Counties filed briefs with the Colorado Supreme Court requesting a review of the Court of Appeals decision. The legal proceedings surrounding the tax-exempt status of the YMCA properties have been ongoing for over a decade now though. The initial proceedings resulted from a unique set of circumstances occurring in the early aughts. Throughout 2002, 2003 and for half of 2004 Grand and Larimer Counties assessed taxes on property owned by the YMCA organization. In Dec. 2003 YMCA of the Rockies applied for tax exempt status for its two regional properties, Snow Mountain Ranch in Grand County and the Estes Park Center in Larimer County. The 2003 application for tax-exempt status was for religious purposes and charitable use property tax exemptions. The YMCA properties were initially granted tax-exempt status but the Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals reversed the decision, effectively declaring the properties not tax-exempt. That decision was brought before the Colorado Court of Appeals that issued a ruling in April 2013 vacating the Board of Assessment Appeals' decision. After the appellate court ruling in 2013 the Board of Assessment Appeals reversed their previous decision and granted YMCA of the Rockies religious use exemptions but did not issue a ruling on the charitable exemptions requested by the YMCA. On Jan. 22, 2015 the Colorado Court of Appeals reaffirmed the tax-exempt status of the properties.

EGSD eyes YMCA tax exemption proceedings

An ongoing taxing dispute between the YMCA of the Rockies, Grand and Larimer Counties and various taxing entities in the two counties has officials from the East Grand School District (EGSD) cautiously watching developments and preparing for a potential repayment of over half a million dollars in tax funds from the school district alone. Over the past several months members of the EGSD Board of Education discussed the issue during Board meetings. East Grand Business Manager Donette Schmiedbauer briefed the Board of Education on the subject with updates during the late Feb. Board meeting. As it now stands the YMCA of the Rockies has been ruled tax exempt. Grand and Larimer Counties are appealing the decision. If the appeal is denied local taxing entities such as Grand County and the EGSD will be required to return previously taxed funds to the YMCA. According to Grand County Treasurer Christina Whitmer the funds to be repaid include owed interest, which accrues at a rate of one percent per month. For the EGSD alone the total repayment figure is around $618,000. Grand County would be looking at a repayment total of around $1.3 million. The taxed funds from YMCA were taken during 2003 and half of 2004. The total amount of funds taxed from YMCA during that year and a half period was $531,494.42. The total interest accrued on the taxed funds is $762,622.85 making the possible interest owed greater than the initially taxed total. The Colorado Court of Appeals is currently handling the dispute with both Grand and Larimer County acting on behalf of the other affected taxing entities, such as the EGSD. Grand County Attorney Alan Hassler provided details on the process According to Hassler Grand and Larimer Counties have filed a motion with the Colorado Court of Appeals to reconsider a previous decision from the court that declared the YMCA properties in Grand and Larimer Counties as tax exempt. Hassler said no decision on the motion to reconsider has been received yet and he had no expected timeline. "I hate to second guess the court," Hassler said. The Colorado Court of Appeals most recent decision declaring the YMCA tax-exempt was made on Jan. 22, 2015. If the Court of Appeals denies the motion to reconsider and funds must be repaid to the YMCA Grand and Larimer Counties will administer the process for the various other taxing entities affected by the decision. County Treasurer Whitmer explained that any repayment process would be complex and would depend largely upon when the abatement order would be received. A potential repayment process would be made easier, according to Whitmer, if the abatement were processed in April when the County receives an influx of tax revenue. The County will handle any repayments from entities such as the EGSD. Grand County serves as the collection agent for taxes for entities such as the EGSD. Repayments to the YMCA will likely be covered by withholding tax revenue payments to the EGSD and the other taxing entities. Despite no longer receiving tax funds from the YMCA EGSD Business Manager Schmiedbauer maintains figures on uncollected property taxes related to the YMCA's Grand County property. According to Schmiedbauer's figures if the YMCA were not considered tax exempt the entity would have paid a total of $1,129,010 in taxes to the EGSD alone over the nearly 12 years since it was granted exemption and a total of $2,722670 to all taxing entities affected by the exemption decision. Among the taxing entities affected by the YMCA's tax exemption are: the Colorado River Water Conservancy, East Grand Fire, East Grand School District, Fraser Valley Metro Recreation, Grand County, Middle Park Water Conservancy and the Grand County Library District. The YMCA of the Rockies first applied for religious purposes and charitable use property tax exemptions for its two properties, Snow Mountain Ranch and the Estes Park Center, in Dec. 2003. The Property Tax Administrator granted both exemptions though the Board of Assessment Appeals reversed the decision. In April 2013 the Colorado Court of Appeals vacated the Board of Assessment Appeals' decision. After the appellate ruling the Board of Assessment Appeals reversed their previous decision and granted YMCA of the Rockies religious use exemptions but did not issue a ruling on the charitable exemptions requested by the Y. The Sky-Hi News requested comment from representatives of the YMCA of the Rockies on this story but received no responses as of press time.

YMCA tax payback has East Grand School District eyeing tax hike

Administrators from the East Grand School District are closely watching ongoing negotiations between Grand County government and YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch over the repayment of taxes improperly levied on the property between 2002 and 2004. All told, various governmental entities and special districts in Grand County are on the hook for roughly $1.3 million in taxes and accrued interest that are owed to YMCA. Of that, the school district's repayment figure is the single largest individual share, totaling $646,434 and including $254,015 in previously taxed money and $392,419 in interest. REPAYMENT Because negotiations are ongoing, officials from East Grand do not know the exact figure they will be required to repay. Interest continues to accrue on the overall principle amount at a rate of seven to eight thousand dollars monthly. Additionally East Grand business manager Donette Schmiedbauer said she does not know if YMCA will require repayment of the total amount, including the originally taxed funds and the interest accrued, or if YMCA will forgive the interest and require only repayment of the principle. Schmiedbauer said that when negotiations are completed East Grand's portion of the repayment funds will be dispersed to YMCA by Grand County government. The payment will be derived from property taxes that would normally go to the school district but will instead be withheld by the county and paid to YMCA. Schmiedbauer anticipates the process will occur this spring and said the district would be able to weather the brief storm and pay all bills because of the current level of reserves. The school district may come to taxpayers some time over the next nine months to ask citizens to approve a tax increase to cover the lost revenues — increasing the mill levy rate within the district by 1.2441 mills. East Grand superintendent Frank Reeves said the District Board of Education must make its decision on that issue before Dec. 10, when the district's mill levy must be certified. Schmiedbauer calculated what such a potential tax increase would look like if the district asks citizens to recoup the lost funds. Residential property would see an additional $9.60 in taxes for every $100,000 in assessed property value. Commercial property would see an additional $36.08 in taxes for every $100,000 in assessed value. LOST REVENUE Additionally, lost tax revenue complicates the entire situation. The state determines a total funding amount for each school district. If property taxes do not generate enough revenue to reach the state's funding total for a given district, the state, in theory, backfills the remaining portion. The East Grand funding total is based on a capped number of mills and an assessed valuation of property within the district. After YMCA was granted tax exemption in 2004, the property remained on the district's assessed valuation but was not taxed. Superintendent Reeves said that if YMCA had not been listed on the district's assessed valuations, other property owners within the district would have paid more in property taxes and the state would have been required to backfill a larger portion of the district's overall budget. District officials estimate the dynamic resulted in a loss of roughly $80,000 in tax revenue annually. HISTORY In 2002, 2003 and through half of 2004, property taxes were levied on the Snow Mountain Ranch property just south of Granby and another YMCA property in Larimer County. In December 2003, the YMCA of the Rockies applied for tax exemption on both of its Colorado properties, Snow Mountain Ranch and the Estes Park Center, for religious and charitable use purposes. Exemptions were granted for both properties; however, the Board of Assessment Appeals reversed the decision. That decision was appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which issued a ruling in April 2013 vacating the Board of Assessment Appeals' reversal. After the ruling the Board of Assessment Appeals reversed its previous decision conferring tax-exempt status on the properties once again. In January 2015 the Colorado Court of Appeals reaffirmed the tax-exempt status of YMCA properties. The governments of Grand and Larimer County requested the Colorado Supreme Court review the lower court's ruling. In late 2016 the State Supreme Court declined to review the decision, finalizing the process and ensuring YMCA's continued tax exemption.

YMCA of the Rockies granted full property tax exemption

The Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals has granted YMCA of the Rockies a full property tax exemption for religious use after originally denying the exemption. The ruling means that YMCA of the Rockies will avoid paying upward of $200,000 in property taxes annually for its 2,187-acre Snow Mountain Ranch, located outside of Granby. "We are pleased that the Board of Assessment Appeals has aligned their decision with the Court of Appeals and lifted up the YMCA of the Rockies' sincere Christian Mission," said Kent Meyer, CEO of YMCA of the Rockies, in a press release. "This ruling correctly applies both statutory law and Colorado Supreme Court rulings for other nonprofit camps and conference centers to YMCA of the Rockies." The Colorado Court of Appeals struck down the board's original ruling. The latest decision aligns with the Colorado Property Tax Administrator's previous decision to grant YMCA of the Rockies religious and charitable exemptions. The board decided not to rule on the YMCA's charitable tax exemption, though Laura Fields with YMCA of the Rockies said that the additional exemption will have no additional benefit for the organization. County Attorney Anthony "Jack" DiCola will meet with Larimer County attorneys this weekend to determine how the two counties will move ahead, though at this time the county does not have a position on the ruling, said Robert Franek, assistant county attorney. The decision, issued Aug. 1, is retroactive to the 2002 tax year, Fields said. YMCA of the Rockies stopped paying property taxes in 2005, and has instead been putting the money it would have paid aside into savings. If the county chooses not to appeal the latest decision, or if its appeal fails, it will owe YMCA of the Rockies the total amount of property tax paid for 2002, 2003 and half of 2004 for its Snow Mountain Ranch Property, Fields said, though she couldn't say exactly how much that would be. Court of Appeals finds flaws in reversal The Colorado Court of Appeals' decision to vacate the Board of Assessment Appeals' ruling on YMCA of the Rockies' religious exemption found that it was overly narrow and prohibited by the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The board aligned with the court's decision in its Aug. 1 ruling, citing the necessity of avoiding a "narrow construction of property tax exemptions." The board also cited the general assembly's decision that any activities of a religious organization that promote its religious purposes constitute "religious worship." "Applying the law as directed by the Court of Appeals to the facts of this case," the board wrote, "the Board holds that the YMCA is entitled to a religious purpose exemption for all portions of the properties within its applications." The board also held that the properties were not being used for private gain or corporate profit. Counties' dissent relies on Illinois law Both the Grand County and Larimer County boards of commissioners, which appealed the Property Tax Administrator's original decision to allow the exemption, focused on Illinois' religious exemption statute and its similarity of Colorado's. The counties sought to prove that the YMCA had not furnished sufficient proof of religious use for a tax exemption and argued that the case would be resolved against the YMCA under Illinois law. The counties cited cases in the Land of Lincoln's Court of Appeals that found "Christian service" as overbroad in constituting religious purpose for a tax exemption. The board ultimately decided that Colorado's statutes require "a different analysis" than those in Illinois, and that, under Colorado statutes, public officials may not inquire "as to whether particular activities of religious organizations constitute religious worship." The counties may now petition the Court of Appeals for judicial review. They have 49 days to file a notice of appeal. Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

State considers YMCA tax exemption case

The YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch tax exemption case may soon be headed to the Colorado Supreme Court. Grand County government attorney Alan Hassler confirmed Monday both Grand and Larimer Counties have filed briefs with the Colorado Supreme Court asking the court to review the case. Hassler said the court was fully briefed on the request for review last week and the counties are now awaiting a decision from the Court on whether or not the Justices will hear the case. Hassler said he had no estimated timeline on when he expects a decision from the court. He stressed the fact that the pending decision from the state Supreme Court pertains only to whether or not the court will review the case. If the court does decide to move forward with a review of the dispute Grand and Larimer Counties will file additional briefs with the court lining out their positions on the subject as will YMCA of the Rockies and their legal counsel. If the Colorado Supreme Court declines to hear the case it means Grand and Larimer Counties will have no additional recourse on the subject through state courts. The legal proceedings are the result of a unique set of circumstances involving YMCA of the Rockies. Throughout 2003 and half of 2004 the facilities operated by YMCA of the Rockies in Grand and Larimer Counties were taxed by local authorities. In Dec. 2003 YMCA of the Rockies applied for tax exemption on its two regional properties, Snow Mountain Ranch in Grand County and the Estes Park Center in Larimer County. After initially being granted exemption the Board of Assessment Appeals reversed the decision. The Colorado Court of Appeals then vacated the Board of Assessment Appeal's decision in April 2013. The Colorado Court of Appeals reaffirmed the tax-exempt status of the properties in Jan. 2015. The tax-exempt status of the properties means that taxes levied on the institutions through 2003 and 2004 are owed back to YMCA of the Rockies from the various taxing entities. For Grand County alone that repayment figure is roughly $1.3 million. The East Grand School District (EGSD) is looking at a total repayment figure of around $618,000. East Grand's Business Manager Donette Schmiedbauer maintains figures on the amount of property tax the EGSD would have received from Snow Mountain Ranch had the property not been declared tax exempt, roughly $1,129,000. As the matter winds its way through the legal system East Grand is looking to cover budget shortfalls the District feels resulted from the unique taxing circumstances related to the Snow Mountain Ranch property. Local school districts throughout the state are funded through a myriad of complex programs and streams under the larger umbrella of the 1994 Public School Finance Act of Colorado. Recently the EGSD Board of Education approved a resolution requesting supplemental funding assistance from the Colorado State Board of Education's contingency fund. The EGSD is seeking $638,209 from the State's contingency fund, which is the amount of money the EGSD feels the District failed to collect under the School Finance Act as a result of the confusion surrounding Snow Mountain Ranch's tax status. Schmiedbauer explained the State's contingency fund is set aside for school districts that find themselves with financial needs that are unlikely to be met through other sources. She said she did not know if the State would approve the request, considering the fact that EGSD is not in extremely dire financial straits. "We aren't bankrupt and haven't gone through reserves," she said. Schmiedbauer expressed her belief the State will be required to backfill the $638,000 to the school district if YMCA if found tax-exempt and no additional appeals are made regarding the issue. "However this shakes out they could possibly owe us," Schmiedbauer said.

Thousands protest new, higher Grand County property assessments

Grand County 2009 property tax assessments increased by 13.71 percent overall, according to an abstract summary released by the Grand County assessor’s office. Commercial properties especially increased with a difference of 16 percent from 2008 to 2009. Because of the commercial increase in valuations, the majority of formal challenges to assessments were by commercial property owners, according to Grand County Assessor Tom Weydert. Winter Park Resort on behalf of its base business properties was the largest entity to start in the protest process, but later withdrew, Weydert said. In all, 2,100 people protested at the assessor’s level. Of them, 229 individuals appealed to the County Board of Equalization where local appraisers sit as referees and make recommendations to county commissioners, who serve as the board. The amount of valuations protested to the board exceeded $95 million, the abstract states. The board deemed 95 percent of those properties as properly assessed, or about $90 million worth. Property owners have until September to further protest by arbitration, District Court, or the State Board of Assessment Appeals. The assessor’s office arrived at the 2009 valuations based upon market activity that took place throughout the county from January 2007 to June of 2008. In the industrial category, valuations from 2008 to 2009 increased 80.5 percent. Most of that value is attributed to the molybdenum-producing Henderson Mill, and part is due to the pellet-manufacturer Confluence Energy plant in Kremmling. The value of molybdenum factored into valuations is dependent upon worldwide consumption and production, according to Weydert. “Everything I’m reading is that production should remain constant,” he said. Valuations are used to set mills to meet budget demands. Each taxing authority will be posting when they will be conducting their budget hearings, which can occur between now and November. “I believe it’s crucial that people attend budget hearings, because that is where it all begins,” Weydert said. – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

Sticker shock: Property-tax increases hit some Grand County residents hard

Since the beginning of January, a painful fact has been resonating in most Grand County households. County property taxes went up ” way up. Terry Jonason of TJ Info Systems in Grand Lake, a database consultant who pulls numbers out of the Grand County tax rolls and reformats them to be more user-friendly, says he hasn’t seen an across-the-board jump like this in the 10 years he’s lived in the area. Neither have his clients, he said, most of whom work in the real estate industry and have a constant eye on the local market. Overall, property taxes for single-family homes in the Winter Park and the Fraser area increased by 34 percent; in the Granby area by 16 percent; in the Grand Lake area by 24 percent; and in Hot Sulphur Springs, 31 percent, according to Jonason’s figures. Kremmling residents are breathing a deep sigh of relief ” their tax bills reflect a 1 percent increase; their commercial counterparts even saw a 4 percent decrease in property taxes. But those who own businesses in Hot Sulphur Springs took the most brutal hit of all. Collectively, commercial properties in that area are seeing a 51 percent increase in property taxes. Commercial property in Colorado is taxed at an effective 29 percent rate compared with residential, which is taxed at a 7.96 percent rate. Jonason, like others, blame the results of the county’s property tax valuations assessed last year. When property values came out dramatically higher than expected during the county’s biennial reassessment, red flags were raised as to why valuations went up so considerably, especially in the Grand Lake area. Out of 25,000 valuation notices sent to property owners last year, 2,416 protested the value the county placed on properties. This is a high proportion, said Grand County Assessor Tom Weydert. But the valuations reflect Grand County’s growth, he said. “It was just that the whole real estate market was active,” he said . County assessors of other resort areas, such as of Eagle, Routt, and Summit counties, saw similar market activity and, correspondingly, had high numbers of protests in 2007, he added. The assessor’s office based its values on market activity from Jan. 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006, using methodology outlined by the state. “That’s what we used to base values,” Weydert said. Like properties are used to find the value of homes. In the case of Grand Lake area, Weydert said the county disqualified one subdivision that might have skewed assessments, the new Colorado Anglers subdivision. “There’s stuff going on there that doesn’t reflect what we think is going on in the market,” he said. After all properties are assessed, the state performs an audit of the county’s performance. Audit results dated April 2007 state that the county was in full compliance, that the “median monthly sales” were in the narrowed field of where they should be. But the blanketed approach of assessing properties is still not a perfect science, Weydert said; thus there is an appeals process. Appealing one’s assessed property value is important if it is eventually deemed incorrect, since a variety of local government and district budgets are based on those values. In other words, property values are how all local government boards and special districts determine the amount of property tax revenues that can be collected from citizens. This is the reason and the need for public involvement while annual budgets are being determined, Weydert said. Voters approve and put trust in elected officials who make important decisions about the amount of revenue that can be generated from property taxes, he said. Of the 2,416 assessment protests filed in 2007, 52 percent were adjusted by the assessor’s office. Of the 1,155 cases that were not adjusted, 321 went on to the Grand County Board of Equalization, whereby commissioners hear a referee’s recommendation about the value of property. Commissioners then made their determinations: But nine property owners were not satisfied with what commissioners decided and took their cases to the next level, either to the state Board of Assessment Appeals, a board appointed by the governor, to court or to an arbitrator. Jonason says many of his clients claim, “The data out there does not support the type of raises the county is making.” “No one has an explanation as to how this has happened,” he said. Jonason worries about downtown businesses making ends meet in seasonal tourist areas, or the renters who work two jobs who will take the brunt of property tax increases this year, or families who can barely make ends meet as it is. Vacant properties that haven’t sold for the last six months assessed higher than their listed priced, according Jonason and Grand Lake-area real estate agents. And those who own non-agricultural vacant land are also facing a tax whopper, paying a 29 percent rate on assessed value like commercial property owners do. “It’s terrible for people who will not be able to build right away,” said Judith Graham of Graham Mortgage, Winter Park, whose property taxes on a 1,400 square-foot home in Hot Sulphur Springs have gone up $700 in the past two years. “It forces them to improve their land and go ahead and build. It’s terribly unfair to do that to people who own a little piece of land, to tax them to that limit,” she said. Graham noted that the increase in the county’s appraised value for tax purposes has no bearing on the value assessed by independent appraisers mortgage lenders use to determine refinancing. Those hoping to pay off debt by taking out a second or third mortgage based on their most recent property tax assessment notice should not get their hopes up. Private assessors, not the county, determine the value of homes for mortgage bankers, she said. Business owner and Realtor Donna Ready of Grand Lake hasn’t even looked at her tax notices yet. “I haven’t had the heart to open them,” she said. ” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

Garfield County, districts to cough up $2 million in oil, gas property tax refunds

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Garfield County government and special districts in the western part of the county will have to refund about $2 million between them to five natural gas companies, following a successful property tax appeal to the state.A stipulation handed down by the Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA) was signed by county commissioners on Monday. It re-sets the valuation for personal property owned by the companies from $720 million, the valuation originally determined by the county assessor’s office last year, to $560 million.While the stipulated agreement is less than the county’s original appraisal, it is still more than the $340 million the companies had argued for in their appeal, Garfield County Oil and Gas Appraiser Sean McCourt said.Companies making the appeal were Encana Oil & Gas, Enterprise Gas Processing LLC, Bill Barrett Corp., ETC Canyon Pipeline and Noble Energy Inc. Another case brought by PVC is still pending.”We usually come out somewhere in the middle in these cases,” McCourt said before the county commissioners. “This is the number that was determined to be fair to both parties.”We have gotten a lot of useful information from this that we can use in the future,” he said. “But the painful part is the money we have to give back.”The stipulation means the county has about $46 million less in assessed valuation for the properties, which is the amount used to determine property taxes, Garfield County Assessor John Gorman said.While the companies paid their taxes this year based on the county’s original assessment, they proceeded with the appeal, he said. With the BAA’s stipulation, the difference must be refunded, with interest.Of the approximately $2 million that will need to be refunded, about one-third will come from Garfield County government, including the county general fund and other funds that rely on property tax revenues, Gorman said.The remainder will come from west-end school districts, including Garfield District Re-2 and District 16, as well as Colorado Mountain College, the county library district, fire districts in New Castle/Silt, Rifle and Parachute, and a variety of smaller special districts.The districts will be asked to refund their proportional share of the total, Gorman said.

YMCA of the Rockies plans to appeal tax ruling

TABERNASH – The YMCA of the Rockies should be paying property taxes for both its Grand and Larimer county locations, according to a Board of Assessment Appeals decision released this week. The case was the latest in a series of property-tax appeals the YMCA has been involved in since 2005. If Grand County’s success in the case were to stick, the YMCA in Grand County would be required to pay about $1.98 million in property taxes dating back to 2002, according to Grand County Treasurer Christina Whitmer. About 60 percent of those funds would be due to the East Grand School District. But the YMCA is already planning to take the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, according to YMCA spokesperson Holly Collingwood. “We were very surprised,” she said of the outcome. “At this point, we do intend to appeal. We truly believe we are a charitable organization. We are disappointed in the ruling because it didn’t appropriately apply Colorado law.” The loss would also mean paying Larimer County roughly $2.7 million in back property taxes. Lodging and recreation The YMCA of the Rockies has been setting aside tax funds in an account during the appeals process, during which it has not been required to pay property taxes, according to Collingwood. If the YMCA had to pay past and future taxes on its Rocky Mountain properties, ultimately, “It would hinder our ability to serve our mission,” she said. Officials in both Grand and Larimer counties have argued that YMCA operations in their respective counties should not be tax exempt for their lodging and recreation offerings, which compete with other lodging facilities offering similar amenities. The counties argued that although the YMCA offers religious and family oriented activities, this does not qualify them for exemptions. YMCA originally claimed its tax exempt status in December 2003, at which time the Property Tax Administrator granted a religious exemption for operating in a “religious” and “charitable” nature. The YMCA is a “Christian organization with a Christian mission. YMCA claims to provide charitable gifts by offering educational programs, creating a Christian environment including religious services, providing the Kidney Center, supplying handicap accessible facilities, helping establish young people in life through character development and lessening the burdens of government by providing facilities free of charge or for a nominal fee to government agencies,” reads the Board of Assessment Appeals factual findings. The 5,000-acre nonprofit 501(c)3 YMCA of the Rockies “year-round family vacation and conference center” in Grand County has 52 cabins, 173 lodging rooms, four yurts, 41 campsites, as well as staff housing, an indoor pool, gymnasium, a library, a skate rink, trails, dining halls, laundromat, chapel, conference facility, maintenance and administration building. Dueling appeals After Grand and Larimer counties successfully appealed the organization’s religious status in a 2006 case, the YMCA instead sought a charitable tax exemption for all of its Grand County property, save for the year-round staff housing property and the private concessionaire areas such as the photo park and horse stables. Contrary to a third ruling, the most recent ruling found that the organization is not entitled to the charitable exemption. The Grand County YMCA ranch employs about 280 seasonal summer workers, 50 full-time workers year-round, and about 90 summer volunteers. The lodging facilities available for rent are “purposely sparsely decorated, with the majority lacking televisions, to encourage family interaction,” reads testimony from Neil Nicholl, president of the YMCA of the USA. During the three-day June hearing in Denver, with Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola and Assistant County Attorney Bob Franek representing Grand County, Grand County Assessor Tom Weydert testified that he “does not consider YMCA to be a charity.” He, like other witnesses in DiCola’s case, compared the YMCA to other operations that are taxed. “Winding River Ranch is hundreds of acres in size and immediately adjacent to a National Park with a wide range of accommodations, including RVs, campers, huts, and full-facility cabins,” the order recounts Weydert’s testimony. The Grand Lake-area resort also offers religious facilities and services, cross-country skiing, nature educational activities and a staffed craft area, he said. Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a private for-profit resort, offers hiking, biking, fishing, interpretive programs and wedding areas for guests. It has a library, recreation room geared to kids, a pool and no televisions in rooms, according to testimony from Winter Park-Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Catherine Ross. Although it is not considered a “religious”-based operation, the owners “donate extensively to the community,” she said. Both Ross and Granby Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sharon Brenner said they market YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch the same as they do other lodging properties. The Inn at SilverCreek holds conferences and markets to families, youth groups and church groups. For government agencies, it makes conference facilities available at no fee or a nominal fee of no more than $100, said witness Cheryl Shipe, director of operations of Alderwood Management Group, which manages the Inn at SilverCreek. “YMCA is its largest competitor,” Shipe’s testimony reads. The Board of Assessment Appeals ruling was based on a “lack of persuasive evidence regarding participation of families in charitable activities” on the part of the YMCA, according to the Order. The Board also noted that “sufficient record-keeping and information on YMCA’s actual use of property” was not presented in a manner that proved their percentage of charitable use. “It is impossible to know exactly how many hours qualified for non-exempt use,” the Order reads. Although more than half of the local YMCA’s back property taxes would be collected by the East Grand School District, Superintendent Nancy Karas said the years of uncollected taxes would be obligated in various ways. It’s possible some of the money could come back to taxpayers in the form of a reduction in property tax, she said, for the portion of past school bond payments that would be covered by the YMCA. Exactly how much of the money would be leftover for general school-district operations has not yet been calculated, as the YMCA gears up for another appeal. – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.