County workers go door-to-door, resolving property tax protests
It was awkward enough that Jennifer Riley was at the man’s house as an agent of the government, given she was there because the man was upset about his taxes increasing.
But then, his dog starting biting at her ankles.
“It wasn’t a big dog, but he bit my shoe like six times,” said Riley, Moffat County Assessor’s Office chief appraiser. “I was paying more attention to the dog than the man, until he asked me to come inside the house.
“That’s when I realized he was wearing a skirt.”
Each year, Riley, chief appraiser for the Moffat County Assessor’s Office, and Carol Scott, chief deputy appraiser, must go to the home of every person who protests their property valuation.
They inspect whatever it is that someone claims makes their home worth less than the county appraised it for – because a lower value means lower property taxes – whether that be old carpet, a bad roof or no electricity, to the backyard.
They split the county in half, and this year they visited about 300 homes all together.
Some protesters have been particularly upset this year because state law requires property values to be fixed at their summer 2008 prices, before the national real estate market took its dive into recession.
That means most home values are increasing this year, at least inasmuch as they pertain to property taxes, not necessarily the homes’ actual sale prices.
Riley and Scott said they understand people’s frustration with the system, but there’s nothing they can do about it.
They’re just doing their job, they said.
And in doing so, they have been able to meet people from different walks of life all across the county, from Craig to Dinosaur.
Through her job, Scott has come to an understanding about people.
“Nothing’s normal, but you don’t have any expectations,” she said.
It’s a job neither woman grew up wanting to do.
“Who wants to grow up to work in the Assessor’s Office?” Riley said. “I was going to be a teacher, until I was a senior (at the University of Wyoming) and I decided I do not like kids.”
She ended up back in Craig working for a company that leased and zoned land for cellular towers. But after Sept. 11, she said, the telecommunications industry dried up.
“There weren’t a lot of good jobs that paid good benefits,” Riley said. “Then, I saw this job, and I applied. Now, here I am.”
Scott graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in range ecology, the study of how to manage land for multiple uses.
She had a passion for mine land reclamation and initially got a job doing exactly that with Colowyo Coal Co.
The only problem was, her dream job was part-time and seasonal.
“I needed a better job, with better benefits,” Scott said. “So, here I am.”
On Wednesday, that meant Scott and Riley were on their way to Dinosaur. They had two set appointments, along with several other places to visit where the owners hadn’t returned their phone calls.
The two said they usually make one visit to Dinosaur a year because of its distance from Craig, so they have to get as much done as they can.
The first house they stopped at, owned by Donna Franklin, a 71-year-old retired nurse, was the only homeowner who answered the door that day.
Franklin contended her house was in very poor condition, not necessarily on the outside, which is what the Assessor’s Office looks at during preliminary mass appraisals, but on the inside.
Franklin said her carpet had been torn up, exposing the bare wood underneath, which in some places had deteriorated to the point that she laid down long board to walk on.
She said she wanted to clean up and had even purchased new floor tile to install, but medical conditions prevented her from working on the house.
“They can’t tell me what’s wrong,” Franklin said. “It’s really hard to get ahead when you fall down. Well, when people push you down.
“All these teeth are gone because of these lovely dentists,” she added, pointing to her mouth. “I came here with a full mouth of crowns, some of them gold, which probably has something to do why they’re gone. But you do what you can.”
Riley told the woman her property value probably would decline.
Franklin was appreciative that Riley and Scott stopped by her home. She said the county does a “wonderful, absolutely wonderful” job, the Assessor’s Office included, even though taxes usually increase.
Not every county resident feels that way, though.
Melvin and Joan Snyder’s protest states that the government is basically a glorified criminal.
“What this government is doing to the people is legalized extortion,” the protest reads. “We are struggling to pay utility bills and health insurance, much less having any money for items to help keep the community growing.”
Riley said the Snyders never returned her phone calls to come inspect their home.
So, Friday, she went out to their house to make a final attempt at resolving their protest. They let her in, but Riley said her office had valued everything correctly.
“We make every attempt to view every single protest, but we don’t always get cooperation for the taxpayers,” Riley said. “Some people won’t let us go inside. They’re saying there’s something wrong, but they won’t show me what.”
In that case, she said there’s nothing she can do but deny the protest, which doesn’t help a frustrated taxpayer get over his or her frustrations.
The Snyders did not return calls for comment by press time.
Not everything is lost for taxpayers who get a denial notice, however.
Homeowners have until July 15 to appeal the decision from the Assessor’s Office to the Moffat County Board of Equalization, which is made up by the three county commissioners.
From there, they can appeal a protest denial to the Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals or the Colorado District Court.
After all that, residents also can file for a tax abatement – a refund – after they pay their tax bill.
Riley and Scott said they always hope it never gets that far.
Not because they don’t want the headache. Rather because, despite the fact they never dreamed of working in a tax office, they want taxes to do what they’re supposed to do: build roads, buy schoolbooks and pay for police, firefighters and ambulances.
“By that point, taxing entities have already budgeted the money and spent it,” Riley said. “That’s when they have to look at things and make people or cut services.”
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