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Colorado Property Tax Protests Tamer Than Expected
From The Denver Post 5/31/15
By Aldo Svaldi
Property tax protests are rolling into county assessor offices across the state ahead of Monday's deadline. But the river of discontent, while running full in some places, isn't jumping its banks in the way that some assessors feared when they sent out notices a month ago showing historic valuation increases.
"We are over 7,000 on Thursday, but it isn't anything we didn't expect," said Boulder County assessor Jerry Roberts, who sent out about 117,000 notices of valuation.
Boulder County has surpassed the 6,072 protests received in May 2013, the last property valuation cycle, and Roberts predicts the number could break 11,500 or more, which would beat the 2009 mark of 10,722.
Larimer County is another place where protests are running high. The county crossed 9,000 protests Thursday and may reach 13,500 out of about 150,000 valuation notices, assessor Steve Miller predicted.
The county has already surpassed 2013 levels and is on track to match 2009, the last big year for property valuation protests.
"We encourage protests," said Miller. "As long as we can handle them, everything will be OK."
Counties with more educated populations, a larger share of custom homes, higher-priced homes or second homes tend to experience a higher rate of protests, assessors said.
That applies to mountain resort counties. While protests remain robust there, they aren't approaching 2009 levels, in part because home-value gains are lower than they were in the years before the financial crisis.
Valuations issued in 2009 were particularly vexing to owners, who were being hit with increases linked to 2008 statistics even as property values plummeted as the recession wore on.
Eagle County saw 1,395 protests as of Wednesday, compared with 641 on the same day in 2013 and 3,360 in 2009, said assessor Mark Chapin.
"In 2009, our insane year, 19.2 percent of taxpayers appealed," said Summit County assessor Beverly Breakstone. This year only 3.2 percent have done so, and even if that doubles, the load will remain moderate.
One thing that may be keeping down the number of protests, especially along the northern Front Range, is a widespread awareness of how much property values have risen.
Comparable sales have become much easier to find online, making it easier to double check an assessor's calculations before protesting.
Assessor Keith Erffmeyer said Denver residential properties went up a median of 29.6 percent, a historic increase that raised worries of a crushing flood of protests.
But as of Thursday, only 4,400 protests had come in, and even if a late surge takes the total to 10,000, it will remain a fraction of the 214,000 notices that went out. More than 15,000 owners protested in 2009, he said.
"As assessors, we worry when we do this every two years," he said. "It is surprising that what we thought was going to happen didn't materialize."
Arapahoe County assessor Corbin Sakdol had at one point looked into hiring an outside call center to cope with inquiries.
As of Wednesday night, 2,912 protests had come into Arapahoe County. The number represents only 1.4 percent of the 210,000 valuation notices sent out. Call volumes are also way below expectations.
Even if protests were to triple by the Monday deadline, they won't surpass the 9,594 filed in 2009.
"People were surprised their values went up so much, but as they researched it, they felt the values were reasonable," Sakdol said.
But not everyone did. Psychologist Dana Max is fighting an increase in the value of his downtown Littleton building to $559,000 from $295,000, a jump of nearly 90 percent.
"If this property is worth $559,000, then I want to sell it. There is no way it is worth that," he said.
Using seven comparable building sales in the area, Max estimates a value of between $300,000 to $350,000. The likely doubling of his commercial property tax next year will put a huge burden on his business, he said.
In more rural parts of Colorado, the issue isn't a big jump in residential or commercial property, but rather much higher values on agricultural parcels.
In Otero County, irrigated parcels are up 30 percent in value, while the gain on grazing lands is closer to 14 percent, assessor Ken Hood said.
"It is primarily due to the increased commodity prices that went into the calculation," Hood said.
Agricultural land values are tied to a 10-year average for prices of the underlying commodities. As lower prices of 2002 and 2003 dropped off, they were replaced by the higher prices logged in 2012 and 2013.
Taxpayers across Colorado have until Monday to protest their property valuations — either in person, online or with a postmarked letter.
"You can protest online until 11:59:59 p.m. on Monday evening," Miller said, adding he expects some taxpayers will use every second.
In most counties, assessors should answer protests by June 30, said JoAnn Groff, the state's property tax administrator.
A few counties operate under extended deadlines that provide the assessor until Aug. 31 to respond.
While it varies by county, around half of protests receive an adjustment in value. Those who disagree with the assessor's decision can appeal to their county's board of equalization.
That board's decision in turn can be appealed along three routes: the state board of assessment appeals, a local district court or binding arbitration.
"There are a lot of opportunities for property owners to help the assessor get the value correct or to learn the assessor did have it correct," Groff said.
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