Beverly Breakstone: A property tax primer
Summit County Assessor
The process of property tax is always a mystery. In response to Mr. Kowalewicz’s letter of Feb. 6, let me share some facts. The concerns of Mr. Kowalewicz are probably the concerns of many taxpayers.
The process of valuing property for the purpose of taxation is a local matter governed by state laws and statutes. Property taxes (and local sales tax) fund important and vital county and town services. These include funding for the school system, fire and public safety, local road maintenance including snow removal, our libraries, community college, acquisition and maintenance of open space, our social services functions, the senior and community center and county administration. Some of the towns and special districts also receive disbursements from property tax collections, and the money they receive contributes to the funding of the town’s or districts services. The federal government does not have any role in the process of setting local property taxes. The only taxes the federal government is involved with are related to income tax filing and payment ” and, of course, non-payment!
Briefly, here is how property valuation and tax works in Colorado. Every other year all county assessors’ offices in the state revalue all the property in their county. 2009 is a revaluation year. After all the appeal processes are completed in the late summer, the assessor is able to total up the new value of all the parcels in the county by property type; commercial, residential, agricultural, vacant land and so on.
The total, called the Certification of Value, is sent to the entities that receive the property tax revenue; the schools, community college, the fire districts, the county, the towns and any special districts, such as the water, conservation and sanitation districts. Many areas are special districts such as Swans Nest Metro, Eagles Nest Metro, Willowbrook, Hamilton Creek and many more. All of these entities determine their budgets for the coming year. In many cases they work with State Division of Local Government to set their taxes based on the rate approved by voters and within constitutional guidelines and limitations. These tax rates are sent to the county treasurer. The treasurer then calculates the taxes to be collected from each property owner based on the tax rates the treasurer has received. Also, due to a constitutional amendment passed by Colorado citizens in 1982 called Gallagher, commercial and vacant land property owners pay taxes at a higher rate than residential owners do. For a complete listing of all the entities that receive disbursements from property tax, go to http://www.co.summit.co.us and click on Assessor, then the Taxing Entities link.
If property taxes were cut 50 percent as suggested (in Mr. Kowalewicz’s), all the services we receive for our tax dollars would be very seriously impacted. The entities that receive property tax revenue would need to cut their budgets by 50 percent as well. This means we would get one half of everything; one half of our fire and public safety, one half the teachers, and one half the snow removal, and so on. For a good visual, imagine the impact of a sanitation district operating on half its budget.
Very soon, on the county website under the Assessor link, we will be featuring some charts that show a comparison of the county’s property sales for 2006, 2007, and the first six months of 2008. The sales data collection period used to value county property for this 2009 reappraisal is January 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008. Other information about our revaluation will be posted later this spring. All Summit County property owners will be sent their Notice of Valuation on May 1 of this year.
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