Hotel owners challenge higher tax bills, seek abatements

A taxing proposition

The value of Jody Holland's motel, Affordable Inns, has increased two and one-half times in the past year, according to an assessment from the Moffat County assessor.

That would be good news if Holland wanted to sell her motel. But it was bad news when the tax bill arrived in the mail.

Holland is one of several lodging proprietors in Moffat County upset over steep increases in property valuations. The valuation of the Bear Valley Inn increased by $6,000, even though the motel had only been open for three months in 2003. The management at Deer Park Inn and Suites protested their assessment and the county commissioners lowered its valuation to match the Holiday Inn.

But it's not unusual to hear complaints around tax season, said County Assessor Suzanne Brinks.

"The bills go out and everyone complains. It's like a second protest period," she said.

The property valuation protest period runs through the month of May. Valuations are supposed to be mailed to property owners at the beginning of May. Property owners then have the duration of that month to protest their valuation. An Assessor's Office employee is then required by state statute to go to that property in person and double check the valuation. More than 300 property owners protested their valuations in 2003.

Affordable Inns and Bear Valley Inn are examples of cases of confusion in the valuation process, and could provide insight into why so many people complain when bills arrive.

Holland said she called the Assessor's Office on May 28 to complain she had never received her valuation but was told it was too late to protest anyway.

Brinks said Holland called but only about personal property and not commercial property.

When Dave Bradshaw purchased the Bear Valley Inn in a distress sale from the previous owner, he arranged to pay the property taxes on a pro-rated basis. But the owners wouldn't show Bradshaw the valuation notice, so he never knew it was $6,000 more than was expected.

Both Holland and Bradshaw believe their valuations are too high, and if they want anything to change, they will now have to file for abatement with the county commissioners. Abatement is another remedy to correct over-valuation, except the assessor will take a "harder look" at the disputed property than during protest, Brinks said.

Many people hope their value will go down when reassessed for abatement, but it can also increase, Brinks said.

All commercial property valuations in Moffat County increased in 2003, Brinks said.

Property assessments are calculated by a computer program based on sales information from an 18-month period six months prior to the valuation.

No county employee sees most properties unless the owner protests the assessment. There are more than 10,000 parcels of taxed land in the county, so there is no time to personally look at each one, Brinks said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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