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County values swinging up and down

Collin Smith

Value changes

The following shows how assessed property values increased and decreased from 2008 to 2009 in Moffat County:

• Oil and gas: +$55,016,049*

• Commercial: +$10,689,255

• Residential: +$10,669,173

• Vacant land: +$3,816,484

• Agricultural: +$442,039

• Industrial: +$224,034

• Natural Resources (including coal): -$3,461,293*

* Includes industry production values

Value changes

The following shows how assessed property values increased and decreased from 2008 to 2009 in Moffat County:

• Oil and gas: +$55,016,049*

• Commercial: +$10,689,255

• Residential: +$10,669,173

• Vacant land: +$3,816,484

• Agricultural: +$442,039

• Industrial: +$224,034

• Natural Resources (including coal): -$3,461,293*

* Includes industry production values

Moffat County can’t stop its tax base from floating up and falling down.

“The last couple of years has kind of been a yo-yo,” Moffat County Assessor Suzanne Brinks said. “It’s just been up and down, up and down. It makes it really hard to budget, because we’re so tied to energy.”

It may not be that difficult next year, however.

Rough projections for this year’s tax roll – based on 2008 values, then collected and spent in 2010 – look healthy.

If anything, 2008 was a good year for the energy industry.

Although preliminary reports show local coal companies lost about $3.6 million of their assessed values from 2007, land and equipment for oil and gas companies increased by about $55 million.

Overall, the county’s estimated assessed value increased about $77 million from 2008 to 2009.

Compared to 2008, that would put the county, Moffat County School District and Colorado Northwestern Community College in a position to split $4.5 million more in tax revenue.

But it’s not that simple.

The state Constitution allows a government to collect only 5.5 percent more revenue than it did the year before.

Unfortunately for local officials, Moffat County went backward in 2008. Brinks said the county’s tax revenue declined about $750,000 from 2007 to 2008, which means Moffat County will have to cap its income based on an already deflated number.

That may be good news for homeowners and businesses, because the county most likely will have to institute a temporary mill levy credit, thereby lowering everyone’s potential tax bill.

Good times might be short-lived, however.

Brinks is not optimistic that energy industry values will climb again or remain stable this year.

Taxes essentially are paid two years behind. Values calculated this year are for 2008 property and production, and the taxes on those values won’t be paid until 2010.

The industry didn’t start to decline until late 2008 and into 2009. Valuations for this year, during the depths of the recession, won’t be calculated until next year.

That’s when the county will know whether and how much it will suffer from the decline in natural gas production.

“I expect the oil and gas next year to be down, but that’s just the nature of that industry,” Brinks said.

It also doesn’t help that coal property and production, historically Moffat County’s most stable energy sector, is losing value. Bricks said that is mostly because of Colowyo Coal Company’s staggered transition into doing business in Rio Blanco County.

The losses may not continue for long, though.

“Depending on what happens in this country with how coal is treated – what the new administration does – Colowyo wants to open another pit in Moffat County,” Brinks said.

It’s all something of an unknown, though, she added.

The preliminary valuations are a good sign for the county, but companies have until the end of July to protest for lower values.

Even if the county keeps the maximum valuation, it won’t be able to capitalize because of revenue limits.

Finally, 2009 likely won’t be a good year for the energy industry.

“It’s too bad they can’t take advantage of this little boom and put it away for a rainy day,” Brinks said.


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