In other action
At its Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission:
• Approved a tax appeal for Montana-based Beartooth Oil and Gas on two pipelines that were assessed by Visual Lease Services, a private company hired by the county to investigate energy industry property. Together, two pipelines were reduced $942,291 in value, which reduced the company's business property taxes about $16,000. Assessor Suzanne Brinks said it was because Beartooth provided more information about their property than had been originally reported. Specifically, there was no reported size for the pipelines, so Visual Lease estimated they were 6 inches in diameter. Beartooth then reported the pipes are smaller, and provided information that one pipeline was built for less than estimated by Visual Lease. Brinks added there is no way for the county to prove a pipeline is larger than a company reports. However, if the Assessor's Office had reason to believe it was being lied to, it could sue a company for perjury for falsifying its tax reports.
• Denied a tax appeal for Moffat County residents Ken and Ardella Topliss, who own three residential vacant land properties in Dinosaur. Assessor's Office officials said they valued the land at 30 cents a square foot, and that matched recent sale prices for comparable land in the area.
• Approved a tax appeal for Rio Ro Mo Land Co., specifically for agriculture land east of Craig owned by Gerald Culverwell. Part of the land had been assessed as residential property when it should have been marked as agriculture.
During a tax appeal hearing Tuesday, Moffat County resident John Littlehorn asked why the Moffat County Assessor's Office continues to value property at a high level when the local housing market appears to be cooling off.
"Nowadays, houses are not selling, and values are going down," he said.
Jennifer Riley, Assessor's Office chief appraiser, said that is not true. Although there seems to be fewer sales, prices are holding steady compared to last year.
According to her records of Moffat County residential real estate transactions, the average sale price in 2007 was about $169,000. In 2008, the average price through July is about $163,000.
"The time to sell seems to be longer, but then anything under $200,000, the marketing time appears to be days," Riley said. "One of the things, too, sales are coming down because of the new construction. We've seen more vacant residential land sales than we have before.
"One of the things that interests me, there are a lot more commercial sales. While there's a little bit slower residential growth (than in 2006 and 2007), our commercial growth is climbing. That gives me some optimism, too, that this growth is sustainable."
Craig When Moffat County residents John and Guyla Littlehorn appeared at the Moffat County Commission meeting Tuesday, they said they wanted equality.
The Littlehorns said their property values for 40 acres with a modular home and some agricultural buildings went from $14,764 in 2006 to $90,654 in 2007.
Their taxes went from $157.19 to about $841 in the same time.
"We moved here in 1993, 15 years ago," John said. "One of the main reasons we moved here was because of lower property values. We do most of our work in Steamboat and Rangely. We could have moved there, but we thought we'd save money living here.
"We like it here. We want to stay. Now, we're paying $800 a month in fuel, and we're wondering if that was the right move."
John and Guyla added they were disappointed with the seeming inconsistency in data from the Assessor's Office.
There are many properties of comparable size with more valuable homes and more valuable agricultural buildings that paid less in property taxes this year, the Littlehorns said.
"That is not fair," Guyla said. "That is discriminatory."
Commissioner Saed Tayyara said he felt the Assessor's Office did their job, which is to value property accurately.
Tayyara pointed out that an appraiser hired by the Littlehorns a couple of years ago found the property to be worth about $190,000, almost $100,000 more than the Assessor's Office found.
"I see the validity because, by your own words, the value is about $190,000," Tayyara said to John.
Carol Scott, Assessor's Office chief deputy assessor, said there were unique reasons why the Littlehorn property increased so much and a deeper reason why other properties seemed to be valued less.
With the Littlehorn property, the owners paid less than they should for several years.
The agricultural buildings on the property had been left off the tax rolls since they were built some years earlier. The Assessor's Office also mistakenly classified their home and valued it at less than state requirements.
The reason other properties were not taxed as much is because there continue to be instances of undeclared agricultural buildings, just as the Littlehorns did not declare their additions, either, Scott said.
Agricultural buildings do not require a permit to build, which means there is no county construction record. The only way to find agricultural construction is if the property owner declares it or if the Assessor's Office does a site inspection.
Assessor's Office officials can do site inspections if there is a sale, a tax protest or new construction, Scott said. When the Littlehorns protested their taxes in 2006, Scott found the omitted property and added it to their tax bill.
Omitted agricultural property is relatively common around the county, Assessor Suzanne Brinks said.
"In theory, we should have enough appraisers, so we go to visit property at least once every 10 years," Brinks said. "There is some property in this county we haven't visited for probably 30 years."
The Littlehorns said they still didn't see the fairness in taxing them this year when the county was not going to tax other properties the same way.
The Assessor's Office cannot add value to properties at this point because the assessment period is over.
However, officials said every property brought to the county's attention that was not paying appropriate taxes would be revalued next year.
"I'm very much interested in people be treated fairly," Gray said. "The one thing I see is happening, you look at the total tax bill and compare it to other properties and it seems high. But, the reality is, they were being undertaxed."
The Commission voted unanimously to deny the Littlehorns' tax appeal.