Many property owners in Delta county were surprised to see their assessed valuation plummet this year, some by as much as 20%.
The county's valuation came in $23 million less than last year, for a total just shy of $300 million. The county relies on a portion of these property taxes for just two percent of its operating budget, but that still amounts to a significant amount of money.
Delta county Assessor Debbie Griffith has been in office since 1989, and she has never seen a drop in valuation like this year's. Griffith told commissioners on Monday that property values (which declined an average of 9%) have fallen victim to the foreclosure rate.
"The data that we collected on residential properties, 31% of them were REOs, or foreclosures that were being resold by the bank," Griffith said. "And that was enough to bring values down. A lot of those were sold for 40 and 50 cents on the dollar."
The most recent figures were calculated in June 2012, based on the preceding 18 months. In an unusual turn of events, Griffith said some homeowners thought their properties should be valued higher, despite the fact that they will pay higher taxes. That group made up part of the 248 appeals this year.
"We had a significant number of taxpayers who felt their value was too low, and wanted an increase," Griffith said. "Some of those properties actually did increase once we had done a field visit and got proper current data for their account."
Griffith said 109 appeals were denied, 128 were adjusted, and 11 people were satisfied after the had the valuation explained. This is out of 24,000 accounts taxed in Delta County, including not only real estate, but manufactured homes, oil and gas production, businesses that operate in more than one state, and commercial personal property. About half the accounts are residential property, and about 2500 are agricultural properties. Agriculture has a special place in Colorado, and ag equipment is not taxed.
Griffith said the county could also be affected by a proposal from the oil and gas industry, and some counties, to tax personal property as a percent of production, rather than on its face value.
"In Delta County right now, we have 21 wells, we're getting production off of one," Griffith said. "They're brand new wells, most of them haven't even been in production for a year. They drill them, they cap them off and they let them sit there because natural gas isn't expensive enough right now. And so they don't want to sell."
Griffith says there are signs of stabilization in the real estate market, but it make take a while for those positive changes to be felt.
"It always takes longer for the economy to decrease in Delta County when there's a big hit in Colorado, but it always takes longer for us to get back to where everybody else is."