When I introduce myself to people as a candidate for Jefferson County Assessor, I can count on the same question from almost everyone: What does the assessor do?
One thing the assessor doesn’t do is set your taxes. The assessor cannot raise or lower anyone’s taxes. Taxes are set by the taxing entities themselves—the government agencies that provide services in exchange for tax dollars.
In Jefferson County there are more than 200 taxing entities. Most people only pay taxes to a half dozen or so: Jefferson County itself, the school district, the city the property is in (if it is in a city), the library district, a fire protection district and a water district for instance. But there are many smaller entities that also collect taxes—recreation districts, local improvement districts etc. Each of those organizations sets a mill levy, which is often subject to a vote of its members.
So, back to what a county assessor does. Assessors put a value on every piece of property in the county.
State law requires County Assessors to use market value when setting value for residential property. The County Assessor’s job is to determine what each property would sell for on a particular date—June 30 of every even numbered year. The value for property tax purposes remains unchanged for two years, unless the property changes due to an unusual condition.
Then it gets complicated. The Gallagher Amendment, in effect since 1982, requires that 45% of all property taxes paid in the state come from residential property owners, and that 55% comes from the owners of commercial properties.
Since 1982, aggregate residential property value has increased at a much greater rate than commercial; therefore, the assessment rate for residential must change in order to keep the required 55/45 ratio. In 1982, when Gallagher passed, commercial property was assessed at 29% of actual value and residential property at 21%. Since 1982, the residential rate has gone down continually, and now stands at 7.2%. There are many reasons for this including massive population increases, residential building booms and escalating residential property values.
So today a $500,000 commercial property has an assessed value of $145,000, while a $500,000 residential property has an assessed value of $36,000; which would be multiplied by the mill levy to determine the amount of taxes due.
In 1982 commercial properties were taxed about 38% higher than residential, but now are taxed at 4x the rate of residential property, and the discrepancy is likely to get wider based on Colorado’s appreciating residential market.
There is nothing an individual County Assessor can do about this, and there is really nothing a County Assessor can do to raise or lower anyone’s taxes, other than fix any mistakes that might have been made in valuing a property.
County Assessors are tasked with one thing: To put a fair and accurate value on every piece of property. If I am elected, that is the standard you can hold me to.
A County Assessor who seeks to use the office for the political purpose of raising or lowering taxes betrays the public trust.
All county assessors are audited by the state every year, and if the audit determines that values are not correct, the county will need to pay for an expensive reappraisal, which will cost the taxpayers of the county millions of wasted dollars.
When I am Jefferson County Assessor, properties will be valued fairly and accurately. If there are mistakes in property values, we will fix those mistakes.