Property owners in El Paso County received their real property notice of valuation from the EPC assessor in May. Steve Schleiker, EPC assessor, said that 179,624, or about 91 percent of single family homes in the county, realized an increase in valuation; 11,579 did not increase or decrease; and 6,779 decreased in value.
Schleiker said the appraisals on the more than 246,000 parcels in EPC are done on a mass scale, based in part on sales in individual neighborhoods, which can vary across the county, he said. The market-approach-to-value uses sales from a specific 24-month time period — in this instance, the time frame began July 1, 2012, and ended June 30, 2014, Schleiker said.
“In 2009 and 2011, our reassessment years, foreclosures were really heavy,” he said. “By law, an assessor has to consider a foreclosure amount in their data analysis — those bring down the property values. Now that they’re drying up a bit, they’re not affecting the market as much.”
In January 2014, the county had 201 foreclosures; however, in January 2015, that number decreased to only 96, he said. In February 2014, there were 181 foreclosures; and, in February 2015, the county had 94 foreclosures, Schleiker said. Additionally, house flippers are seeking out neighborhoods, and buying, renovating and reselling at a higher price, he said. Both scenarios increase property values, Schleiker said.
Property value increases in EPC average about 8 percent, and are minimal compared to other counties. “In Douglas County, the average increase on a single family residential property was 19.2 percent,” Schleiker said. “In Denver, Arapahoe and Teller counties; it was a 20 percent increase.”
Schleiker said his office carefully values properties because they are audited every year; and, if a discrepancy is found, the State Board of Equalization can order a reappraisal. “The state comes down, takes over the assessor’s office and bring in their own appraisers,” he said. “The taxpayers, including me, pay their salary and room and board. We are audited with a fine-toothed comb. If an assessor does not make their market adjustments in accordance with the sales, they fail; and there are a lot of consequences that go with that.”
The tax amount listed on the valuations notice is strictly an estimate, because the mill levies for 2015 have not been set, Schleiker said. “The mill levies by the taxing entities will not be sent to my office until Dec. 15,” he said. “Those entities’ budgets can only increase by so much per year, according to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. If it goes too high, they have to ratchet their mill levy down; and they are nervous about having to ratchet it down.”
Because mill levies vary throughout the county, some people will see a larger increase in their estimated taxes than others, Schleiker said. Glenna Harrison, a Falcon resident who lives south of Highway 24, said her taxes more than doubled from last year, from about $572 to $1,230. Another Falcon resident (she preferred anonymity), who lives north of Woodmen Road, said her taxes went up about $700. Both Harrison and the other resident live in areas where the mill rate is 67.21. However, just north of the other resident’s property is the Paint Brush Hills subdivision, where the mill rate is 89.388, according to the assessor's website.
"The mill levy rate plays a big part in determining property taxes," Schleiker said. "Some people are paying about 60 mills, but right across the street they're paying 120 mills."
Agricultural land represents the largest part of the county, especially to the east, and the assessor’s office had to adjust those values as well, Schleiker said. “We have just under 520,000 acres of grazing land and that assessed value went up as well,” he said. “That value has gone up 10 percent statewide, and that’s important because there are folks out there leasing land for grazing cattle. They can lease property out for grazing at prices they haven’t seen for years.”
Schleiker said that, while some people may want to appeal the assessed value of their home to lessen their tax burden, others may want to uphold the new value to increase the price they can fetch for their property for lease options other than grazing, such as wind turbine construction.
However, when property owners in the vicinity of the Golden West Wind Farm Project near Calhan saw the increase in their property values, Schleiker said he received several phone calls from concerned citizens saying that their property cannot be worth the new assessed value because of the wind farm. “The study period was from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2014, and the project change was approved in 2015, which was after the mandatory study period,” Schleiker said. “We have not valued properties with a wind turbine in El Paso County yet. We have valued properties with high-powered transmission lines, and we have not seen any diminution in values. But I am going to be monitoring sales on those properties, so if I do see a decrease in value and it’s due to the wind farm, I will include that data.”
On the whole, Schleiker said he made a decision to leave the property valuations of the Black Forest burn scar area as is. “I’m not confident in the sales of the time during the study period in 2013,” he said. “It was costing owners about $5,000 to get rid of dead sticks so I’m not confident in the sales data. We’ll go through another study period and assess that area in 2017, when we can get more accurate data. It will be affected by new construction out there.”
Additionally, Schleiker said he is going to monitor the sales of other negatively impacted areas like properties in the Mountain Shadows subdivision and the flood areas in Manitou Springs for accuracy in the next round of valuations.
In general, everyone wants their property values to keep appreciating, Schleiker said. “The analogy I like to use … it’s like a retirement account,” he said. “Ten years ago, it took a huge hit. But now, things are coming back. I gained 8 percent in 24 months. The majority of folks think that’s great. It’s the same with your home. But if someone isn’t too sure how we came to that value, they can call us or appeal the valuation.”
| || ||
Colorado tax coffers are full this fiscal year, thanks to rebounding collections from certain industries and the new retail marijuana sales and excise taxes. Higher than expected collections from general revenues and the new pot taxes have triggered the Taxpayer Bill of Rights portion of the Colorado Constitution. The Legislature is asking for a popular vote on whether the state will be allowed to keep the tax revenues or return the excess to tax payers.
State Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver and Colorado Rep. Millie Hamner of Summit County introduced House Bill 15-1367, which addresses the question of whether to refund the excess retail marijuana tax revenue to taxpayers or allow the state to keep the money approved in Proposition AA in 2013.
If the measure passes, $40 million of the marijuana taxes collected will remain with the Building Excellent Schools Today grant program that provides grants to school districts for capital projects; $12 million will remain allocated to youth marijuana education, law enforcement and poison control. And $6 million will go to the state's general fund.
If the measure fails, $13.3 million will be refunded through a reduction in marijuana sales tax rates, from the current 10 percent to 0.1 percent in the first half of 2016; $19.7 million will be refunded directly to marijuana grow operations. And $25 million will be refunded to Colorado taxpayers through a sales and use tax refund on state income tax returns.
TABOR doesn't spell out exactly how to refund monies collected above the yearly TABOR cap, said Penn Pfiffner, former state representative who is now chairman of the TABOR Foundation committee. “Understand that TABOR just protects the citizens from government growing too fast,” Pfiffner said. “TABOR doesn't tell how to spend it and allocate it, that's all part of the legislative process. If they make determinations that, ’Gee, we need to reduce this and that, rather than put it in a general fund refund,' that's a political and legislative decision.”
Other changes in marijuana taxes and allocations were included in the language of HB 15-1367. A one-day total marijuana tax holiday on Sept. 16 would be part of the automatic TABOR caps. Funding for a school bullying prevention and education grant program will come from future marijuana taxes. Local government shares in tax revenues will be reduced in exchange for a local government marijuana impacts grant program. Counties like El Paso County that do not allow retail sales in unincorporated areas but are adjacent to or include areas that allow retail sales, like Manitou Springs, will be eligible for grants to pay for law enforcement, public health and education costs related to retail marijuana use.
TABOR advocates see the need for a refund or a new ballot measure to keep the excess revenues as a feature rather than a bug in the constitutional amendment. “This is what TABOR anticipated,” Pfiffner said. “Any level of government that wants to have more revenue, it just goes to the voters.”
The refund requirements of TABOR were triggered not just by marijuana taxes coming in higher than originally expected, but also because overall tax collections statewide grew. “My own personal observation is that some people are not focusing on the fact that when our Colorado economy recovers, the system is set up that tax collection goes up disproportionately,” Pfiffner said. “To put it all on the marijuana tax as the cause of busting the TABOR cap is too simplistic. After all, income taxes and sales taxes grew a lot. Other taxes grew as well.”
The bill passed both houses of the state Legislature in May. If signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the measure will be included in the Nov. 3 statewide election.