An even playing field

County assessor does not want state dictating taxable value of oil, gas company properties

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In other action

At its Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission:

• Signed a contract with Armstrong Consultants to engineer improvements to the Moffat County Regional Airport terminal and parking lot.

• Approved a personnel requisition for a part-time early childhood coordinator at Moffat County Social Services. The position is new to the payroll.

— Suzanne Brinks says she wants everything to be on an even playing field.

Brinks, who works as the Moffat County assessor, is concerned potential rule changes at the Colorado Division of Property Taxation will prevent local tax authorities from properly assessing the taxable value of oil and gas company property.

The state has a history of undervaluing that property and not revaluing it thoroughly enough to keep in stride with rising inflation and worth, Brinks said.

If the state mandates certain property values through "basic equipment lists," local assessors won't be able to use discretion when they know something is worth more, she added.

The Moffat County Commission signed a letter from Brinks to the Statutory Advisory Committee for property taxes and the State Board of Equalization, which helps govern property tax laws, addressing her reservations.

Currently, the state provides basic equipment lists to county assessors, which provide general values for property items, including equipment used at oil and gas wells.

Local assessors can use the state's values or assess a different value based on their reasoning that the state's assessment is undervalued.

Oil and gas company personal property tax revenue totals about $5.5 million each year in Moffat County, a little more than 1 percent of the county's $474 million in property tax revenue, Brinks said.

"Even though it's a relatively small amount, it's a question of equality for all taxpayers," Brinks said. "These things need to be properly valued."

The state recently hired Visual Lease - the same Oklahoma-based consulting firm Moffat County hired this year to assess oil and gas property locally - to update its oil and gas personal property values described in the basic equipment list.

Brinks and her staff generally approved the new proposed values, she said.

However, she is concerned the values will fall before they are instated because the Division of Property Taxation is conferring with energy companies from the northeastern part of the state.

"The Division has said, when these were first brought to the industry, they gnashed like mad cats," Brinks said. "Of course, the industry says they (taxable values) are too high."

The Division of Taxation sent comments back to Visual Lease to ensure it was assessing correct values, said JoAnn Groff, Division of Taxation property tax administrator.

Brinks also is worried the state will not revalue oil and gas company personal property for a number of years, and counties will be forced to use values that are not adjusted for inflation and new technology.

That has been a pattern for state-issued values before, Brinks said.

Before the Visual Lease assessment, "It became increasingly obvious that the values were absurdly low," Brinks said.

It's not fair that oil and gas company personal property would be adjusted less frequently than residential and other commercial property, she added.

For those reasons, Brinks wants to continue to have the authority to assess property values independently, she said.

That discretion violates statutes regulating oil and gas company personal property, Groff said.

Statutes dictate that when there is a basic equipment list, counties must enforce those values uniformly, Groff said.

"I absolutely applaud assessors doing their job and feeling as though they want to do what is right for their property owners," Groff said. "I think assessors want to make their own decisions. I appreciate that, I just don't think the statute allows me to do that."

The only other course under current statutes is to do away with the basic equipment lists altogether and have every county do their own independent assessments, Groff said.

"Not all counties have the ability to do outside contracting to a private consulting firm," Groff said. "The other bad side is in the oil and gas community, and how much angst there is over these values. Hopefully, we don't get to the point that counties are expending a lot of their resources defending property values in court."

The point is to get the values right, Groff said. She feels compelled by law to require uniformity across the state.

The updated state values will go to the Statutory Advisory Committee in February, Groff said. She will make her recommendation to the committee to require all counties to follow the state's value guidelines Dec. 20.

Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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