County's assessed valuation increases

Moffat County's assessed value is the highest it's been since 1994, but the county commissioners are mounting an effort to drive it higher.

Overall, $900,000 in additional tax revenue will be injected into local tax districts. The county's assessed value has climbed to $342 million. The increased value is primarily a result of a $36 million jump in oil and gas property tax assessments.

But as the gas industry's assessed value increases, the assessed values of some of the top taxpaying companies in the county are declining or increasing less than the commissioners think they should.

The commissioners decided Monday to protest the state's assessment of Salt River Project, one of the companies housed in Craig Power Station. Salt River's assessed value declined by $3 million last year.

"It doesn't make sense. Everybody else is trending upward and they are down 20 percent. I think they hired accountants from Enron or something," Commissioner Les Hampton said.

The commissioners signed a contract with E3 Consulting of Denver to perform a desktop study of Craig Power Station's assessment. E3's staff will take a "quick and dirty" look at the companies' figures in an effort to meet the July 15 deadline for protesting state property tax assessments, said E3's executive consultant, James Galambas.

But the county has until a state Board of Assessment appeals hearing is set to collect information on the protest.

The study will cost the county $20,000 at the most, which will be paid for by a grant from the state Department of Local Affairs.

"There's a reasonable question in my mind why that appraisal should be so low," Galambas said.

These private assessments are common in the power plant industry, he said. Although some natural gas powered electric generation plants are declining in value due to the high cost of gas, that shouldn't apply to Craig Power Station because it is coal powered, Galambas said.

Power plants are valued on the amount of revenue they generate. The commissioners are seeking to challenge the power companies' accounting practices.

Hampton also took issue with Tri-State Transmission and Generation's valuation. The power plant recently finished a $116 million retrofit, and Hampton said he felt their assessment should have increased more.

The retrofit on Unit 1 at Tri-State is included in this year's valuation, but Unit 2's retrofit wasn't finished in time for the latest valuation, said Jim Van Someren, spokesman for Tri-State. But the second retrofit will be included in next year's assessment so the county should expect to see increased values next year, he said.

Tri-State's assessment increased by $9 million this year. The commissioners did not decide whether they would challenge that assessment.

"We feel the assessment is fair," Van Someren said. "The county's issue isn't with Tri-State, it's with the state and how it's calculated."

As far as real property in Moffat County goes, 29 assessment protests were denied, and the assessments of 52 protesters were adjusted. Many of the adjustments involved property inventory mistakes, said Moffat County Assessor Suzanne Brinks. For example, a homeowner may have been renovating their basement and they were taxed on the improvements before the renovation was finished.

Those who disagree with the assessor's decision after protesting can appeal to the county commissioners. This year, only one county resident will protest before the commissioners, Brinks said.

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

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