SAGUACHE — Saguache County Commissioners met as the Board of Equalization (CBOE) last Friday to address a handful of protests remaining after a glitch in the county’s new software system for generating appraisals resulted in incorrect property evaluations.
Some 249 protests were filed initially but Friday only three property owners actually appeared to protest their evaluations. After speaking with state officials in the State Property Tax Division following the discovery of the glitch, Assessor Peter Peterson reissued the evaluations after combing through more than 13,000 property tax records.
Nearly all property owners accepted the new evaluations. Besides those who had been issued incorrect evaluations, Peterson discovered an additional 500 property owners who never received notices at all and did not have a chance to review their valuations for protest. No appeal was necessary in these cases. If property owners wish to protest their property’s value they may do so when tax notices are mailed next January, Peterson said.
During the meeting Friday, Peterson read commissioners the following statement notifying them of yet another issue regarding land value data:
“In the conversion from the Pueblo County [software for tax evaluations] to Tyler Technology [the new software purchased by the assessor’s office], there was an error that occurred in 2,028 accounts which caused a dollar value to be placed on the Notice of Valuation for the land value.
“The error was discovered and therefore our office is asking the County Board of Equalization to remedy the situation. It is the duty of the CBOE to review the valuations for assessment of all taxable property appearing in the assessment roll of the county, directing the assessor to supply any omissions which may come to its attention…
“If the county board determines that an adjustment is warranted, the county board issues a resolution to effect the change and a county board of equalization decision letter is mailed to the taxpayer explaining the reason for the adjustment and the taxpayer’s appeal rights.”
After discussing the matter, commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to make the adjustments. Peterson said a letter would be mailed to taxpayers explaining their options for appeal. Property owners can appeal to the State Board of Equalization, district court or agree to binding arbitration. The letter sent to the 2,028 taxpayers provides details for choosing each option.
Five potential protesters were scheduled to appear at the hearing but only two of those listed appeared. They were joined by a third person whose name was not on the protest list.
Steve Harris, a retired Navy veteran, went first. He claimed the county had assessed his garage as a residence, substantially increasing the amount he owed in taxes. While the tax amount was corrected by Peterson as part of the “glitch” properties, Harris argued that his garage was not used as a residence and should not be assessed as such, especially since no one from Peterson’s office had ever stepped foot on his land to eyeball it.
Assistant to the assessor Laura Taylor explained that the home includes the garage for tax purposes, but Harris objected, asking: “How is a separate building established as a residence?” Commissioners agreed to decide Harris’ case at a later meeting.
Other protesters accepted the corrected values for their property and did not appear. Bill McClure appeared to protest two properties but his concern was rectified prior to his appearance. Another county property owner, John Erickson, came to the meeting but not to protest. His purpose was to inform commissioners that he believes they have stolen his property because he never received a tax notification.
Erickson announced he would be visiting his attorney in Denver on Tuesday to discuss his legal options.
Source of the problems
Former Assessor Jackie Stephens objected in the past, even before the state’s order in 2011 to add properties to the rolls that had not been assessed, that commissioners did not adequately fund her office. Peterson echoes the same complaint. Other offices, including law enforcement and public health, which the county is mandated to fund, also lack sufficient funding.
In addition to the lack of funds, there is no certified appraiser in the Saguache County Assessor’s Office to appraise properties. Some 52 counties in Colorado do not have assessors who are certified appraisers, but their offices then employ appraisers who are certified. Even since the order was issued to appraise properties not on the tax rolls, many properties remain unlisted or are listed improperly.
This adversely impacts the county’s entire tax base, and the county loses revenues, creating a vicious circle. A wider tax base would distribute tax payments over a broader spectrum and would more evenly distribute the tax burden. Resolving the problem is especially important, with a school bond issue looming and other initiatives likely to be introduced.