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 email@example.com.