County Assessor to fight 2001 tax abatements

Salt River Project could cost local taxpayers thousands

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The old adage that you can't escape death and taxes may again ring true for Moffat County taxpayers.

Though increases are negligible, Moffat County property owners paid more taxes this year when local power plants filed and won abatement cases. That means utility operators protested valuations placed on their facilities by assessors and the Department of Property Tax agreed with them. The difference in valuations that a utility paid a previous year returns to the company, taking away from the general pot and therefore charging taxpayers more money.

"This affects every single taxpayer in Moffat County," said County Assessor Suzanne Brinks. "Everyone pays a little more."

When the Salt River Project protested and won abatements for 2002, which were subtracted from taxpayers this year, totals reached a little more than $97,000. Those dollars were taken from separate entities that receive tax money such as the Moffat County School District, Moffat County government, the Craig Rural Fire Protection District and Colorado Northwestern Community College among others.

But those entities don't have to take the hit and can opt to turn around and increase the mill levy to reflect the difference, Brinks said.

The Craig Rural Fire Protection District was the only group that chose not to gain back its $3,034 portion of revenue loss this year. Officials there also haven't indicated they will try to earn back more than $5,000 they may be entitled to collect in the future.

But the issue over tax abatements has surfaced again and may affect 2004 property taxes.

Salt River Project, an energy producer at Tri-State Generation and Transmission, is requesting abatements for the tax year 2001.

If it is approved, Moffat County taxpayers will have to return or pay an additional total of $162,026.

Moffat County Commissioners recently directed employees in the county assessor's office to protest these abatements to the Division of Property Tax, a process that may not be finalized until next summer, Brinks said.

But if losses can't be recouped, costs will have to be cut in some areas, said Dean Hollenbeck, Vice President of CNCC.

The college stands to lose $7,567 if the abatement is upheld.

"It's a half a position for me or not redoing the computer lab," he said at a recent commission meeting. "If we can get this back, that's important."

So far, all the taxing entities, except the Craig Rural Fire Protection District, plan to fight the abatement, Brinks said.

Brinks said the county was never notified of the 2002 abatements (a fact that was confirmed by the Division of Property Tax, Brinks said) or it would have fought those as well.

That the county didn't receive notice last year may offer some leverage in fighting the 2001 figures, she added.

"That could play in our favor when we go to the board with that," Brinks said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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