The assessed value of property in Moffat County jumped by $48.6 million from 2004 to 2005, an increase of more than 14 percent.
County officials said more than 80 percent of the overall increase can be attributed to energy production, but homeowners and business owners also saw major increases.
Homes rose more than 11 percent in value from 2004 to 2005. The increase was more dramatic for business owners. Commercial property valuations rose more than 18 percent on average, while oil and gas, natural resources and vacant land increased 25 percent each.
Commercial property in Moffat County jumped from $20 million in 2004 to $23.6 million in 2005. Several businesses have challenged the new valuations.
Chris Nichols, the owner of McDonald's, could not figure out how the county more than doubled the value of his fast-food restaurant, going from $312,000 in 2003 to $770,00 in 2005.
"When a property valuation changes by more than $450,000 in one assessment period, that raises some concerns in my mind," Nichols said when he appeared before the Moffat County Board of Equalization to protest the valuation.
Ultimately, the board did give Nichols some relief. He sought a valuation of $503,000; the board, made up of the three county commissioners, reduced the value to $720,000.
The Craig Daily Press also challenged its 2005 valuation and had it reduced.
Moffat County Commissioner Saed Tayyara said property values, especially commercial property values, are going up now because they were undervalued for the last 10 to 15 years. "Sometimes, government moves slow," Tayyara said.
He said he understands a sharp increase in taxes will be tough on business owners, but he said because taxes have been artificially low in the past, business owners are still coming out ahead.
"I sympathize with businesses because I've been in business, I understand it," Tayyara said.
State law requires counties to assess property values every two years. For residential property, assessments are based on the sale of comparable properties. Commercial property is based on costs, income and comparable sales
"What we're supposed to do is estimate a fair market value for property," said Moffat County Assessor Suzanne Brinks.
Brinks said the increases in residential and commercial property are the result of a real estate market that is constantly growing. Residential property went from $35.9 million in 2004 to $40 million this year.
"Unless you've got your head in the sand, everyone knows every house is selling for more," Brinks said.
According to the assessor's records, a house on Harris Drive in Craig sold for $207,000 in 2004. In 2005, the same house, with no renovations or improvements, sold for $262,700.
A house on Ranney Street sold for $165,000 in 2000 and four years later, without renovations or additions, sold for $290,000. "The market has gone up significantly," Brinks said.
The market value of commercial property also has seen some major increases in recent years.
In 2000, the Elk Run Inn on Victory Way, formerly the Affordable Inn, sold for $165,000. According to the assessor's records, the building underwent an extensive remodel and in 2002 sold for $600,000. The inn sold for $650,000 two years later without any renovations. The Super 8 Motel sold for $788,000 in 1999 and for $1.7 million five years later without any renovations.
Brinks said market values went up in part because interest rates had been going down.
"People can afford to buy more house," Brinks said.
Commissioners are asking voters to approve a ballot question in November that would allow the county to keep revenues that would otherwise be given back to the taxpayers under a law from 1913.
Tayyara said there isn't a relationship between the tax question and the increase in commercial and residential property values. "It's just wrong timing," Tayyara said.
Tayyara said more than 70 percent of the tax money that would be refunded if the ballot question fails would go back to the county's top 10 taxpayers.