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County defends Scofield valuations

By By JOHN SERFUSTINI Sun Advocate associate editor

The surge in property valuations in Scofield Town is a necessary correction to assure that taxes are collected fairly from all property owners in the county. However, the county's Board of Equalization will listen to the evidence of those who demonstrate the increases are excessive.

That was the word from County Commissioner John Jones and Clerk/Auditor Robert Pero Monday as they explained how taxes could go up in Scofield and elsewhere without any of the county's taxing entities voting for an increase.

As reported in last Thursday's Sun Advocate, this year's revaluation of property in Scofield has led to increases in taxes up to 300 percent. But as the commissioner noted, that would be because the properties in question have been unrealistically undervalued for years. That is not fair to the majority of taxpayers in the county, he noted.

Without naming names, Jones said at least one home purchased for more than $200,000 had been counted on tax rolls at less than $80,000. One aspect of the tax code that make the impact even harder is that many of these homes are secondary residences. Primary residences are taxed at 55 percent of assessed value. Second homes pay on 100 percent.

Pero said that the county has anticipated disputes in the revaluation and has set aside three full days of hearings at the Board of Equalization Sept. 7 - 9. The board is also hearing taxpayers by appointment to avoid lines and long waits.

Both officials said that the burden of proof will be on the taxpayers to show that the valuation process came up with an unfair assessment, usually by means of a certified independent assessment.

Another issue arising from the tax increase is that townfolk and nearby cabin owners around the lake have already noted that they don't get the same services as those who live closer to urban areas.

However, it is not as if they get no services at all for their taxes, Pero and Jones countered.

"We get to choose where we live, where we recreate," Jones noted, saying that it is a matter of personal choice to own property in distant, rural areas. However, the county has bought a fire engine for the community.

Other items on the list of services came from Pero:

Planning and zoning; law enforcement from the Sheriff's Office; wildland fire protection; public lands advocacy; predator control; $750,000 for two new bridges; and maintenance of class B roads and highways. Those are from the county's share of the taxes collected, roughly a third of the total. The school district gets about two-thirds.

While the county's reassessment may be stirring some discontent, the county isn't the only entity that sets a value on property. The state tax commission handles the assessment of big industrial operations, and those "centrally assessed" valuations have been dropping.

The assessed value of Carbon County's top industrial firms is now only about two-thirds of what it was in 2008, a plunge of nearly a half-billion dollars.

According to numbers provided by Pero, the 2008 value of those centrally-assessed properties was a little less $1.5 billion and now stands at a little more than $1 billion. In exact, hard numbers, the valuation is down $481,452,276.

The state's ongoing devaluation of the major firms has brought with it a potentially greater share of the tax burden by other, smaller taxpayers.

The reason for this, according to Pero, is that state law allows all taxing entities in the county to receive revenues equal to the amount collected during the previous year, plus any increase attributed to growth. That certified tax rate is set annually by the state. This is why tax rates can vary despite the fact that neither the county nor the school district have voted for an increase in years.

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