Colorado could hand out up to $149 million in disputed conservation easement tax credits |

Colorado could hand out up to $149 million in disputed conservation easement tax credits

State lawmakers want to end a decades-long dispute over lucrative conservation set-asides the state dubbed fraudulent. Some assessors call the settlement itself bogus.

Michael Booth, Jean Lotus, and Jesse Paul
Colorado Sun

Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that would return up to $149 million to holders of conservation easement tax credits previously disqualified by the state, a revival of a decades-old scandal that appraisers say would be rewarding fraud.

The measure, Senate Bill 33, would restore controversial easement tax credits issued from 2000 to 2013, some of which investigators called spurious and the Colorado Department of Revenue denied after reviews by teams of appraisers.

The conservation easements were originally intended to protect natural spaces while compensating family farmers and other longtime landowners for giving up their rights to develop the property. An appraiser estimated the value of the land and development rights, and the state issued tax credits that allowed the landowner to offset other taxes or get paid cash by investors who bought the credits.

But the revenue department and many in the appraiser community said that in some cases unscrupulous tax investment advisers created partnerships or family groups to claim lucrative, overvalued credits for development that never would have happened. In one disputed case, a piece of land near Lamar that sold for $776,000 appeared to qualify for easement credits of $8 million.

“The levels of fraud were astounding,” said Bill Boortz, president of Mountain, Valley & Plains real estate assessors in Denver. “This bill is 100% free money for all. Anyone who was denied can simply be reimbursed and it’s just not OK. I know that a lot of the people who will be rewarded through this bill would be rewarded unjustly.”

To read the rest of the Colorado Sun article, click here.

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