County opens wallet

Salt River to receive $162K for abatement

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Before the schools and local governments collect their taxes this July, more than a few dollars are going to be peeled off for a local power company.

The Moffat County Board of Commissioners agreed to pay the Salt River Project, a power company housed in Craig Power Station, a $162,026 tax abatement for overpayment of taxes in 2001.

Local tax districts will pay for the abatement this year, but the cost will be passed on to taxpayers on next year's tax bills.

"Everybody will run an abatement mill levy, and that's how they'll make up the abatement," Moffat County Assessor Suzanne Brinks said.

This is the second abatement the state Board of Assessment Appeals has awarded Salt River. In July 2003, the board awarded Salt River an abatement of $97,265 for overpayment of taxes in 2002.

After spending an hour in executive session receiving legal advice from County Attorney Kathleen Taylor, the commissioners voted 2-0 to pay Salt River the entire abatement in one lump sum by July 10. Commissioner Les Hampton was not at the meeting.

"I'm going to vote for this, but under protest," Commissioner Darryl Steele said. "I think this is a dirty trick to go back to 2001 to appeal this and to use different accounting practices and keep ratcheting this up."

The commissioners consistently have charged that the companies housed in Craig Power Station are being valued at less than they are worth, because they use different accounting practices to show the least profits. The state assesses power companies according to their profitability.

However, changing accounting practices to get the lowest tax bill is legal under Colorado law.

This year, the abatement will cost Moffat County School District $91,432, and the county will pay $52,761. The county will pay its portion of the abatement out of the general fund, said Moffat County Treasurer Robert Razzano.

After winning the abatement, Salt River management gave the county two options. The abatement could have been paid in one lump sum this summer, or it could have be paid during the next three years, with the payments including 1 percent monthly interest, accrued since 2001. That would have tacked an additional $38,000 to the bill.

"This is the least risky option for Moffat County," Taylor said after the commissioners voted to pay the abatement at one time.

Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said the commissioners would continue to pursue a private revaluation of the companies housed in Craig Power Station. The commissioners have applied for a grant from the state Department of Local Affairs to pay for a tabletop valuation of the power plant by E3 Consultants, a corporation specializing in property valuations.

"We need to get as much information on the table as we can so the next time we get one of these appeals we have the ammo to fight it," Steele said.

If the grant is successful and the tabletop valuation showed promise, the commissioners would pursue an onsite revaluation of the power plant companies.

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