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Summit County Assessor aims to further improve efficiencies with a second term

ROBERT ALLEN
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BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County Assessor Beverly Breakstone guided her office through a record number of property-valuation appeals in 2009. If elected to a second term, she aims to increase efficiency with cutting-edge technology.

The 63-year-old Democrat from Frisco handled 6,800 appeals in about a month’s time after valuations from a fruitful time led to tax increases amid a recession.

“We listened to every single taxpayer,” she said, adding that 10 appraisers handled the appeals. “What an amazing group we have here that accomplished that. It was a wild year.”

She said about half the appeals led to adjustments, each of about

1 percent to 5 percent.

“Appeals are not unwelcome, we actually learn a lot about property,” Breakstone said.

She was elected in 2006 after working for 20 years in the mortgage industry. She said the assessor’s work isn’t political.

“There’s no policy to work here,” Breakstone said. “The state board of equalization audits every aspect of our job … we pass every year with flying colors.”

But leadership and good management are essential to the office, she said. Her office has a staff of 18, which includes 13 licensed appraisers.

Breakstone has several plans for cutting costs as the county begins to incur revenue losses in 2012, when the latest valuation leads to an estimated $4.6 million loss to county coffers.

“We’ve already over the four years here have been able to do more with less,” she said.

In her next term, Breakstone said she aims to move toward paperless technology. The process of printing, paying postage and mailing documents to property owners costs about $25,000.

“Over 90 percent of Americans have some sort of mobile device,” she said, adding that some people could receive their property-value information through personalized websites.

Aerial photography is another technology that Breakstone said could help planners, emergency responders and transportation experts as well as her office.

Pictometry.com offers specific measurements of structures through aerial photography presented through photos.

“The software detects changes to properties year-to-year,” Breakstone said.

She said that such technology could help her office detect home expansions – such as building on a three-car garage – done without a permit.

“We may not find out unless a neighbor calls us,” she said of the existing situation, adding that late-season snow has caused losses of productivity for her appraisers. “Imagine inspecting properties online in the dead of winter.”

Breakstone said that beyond building an efficient team, her office accomplishments also include discovering revenue losses through vacation rentals by owner.

“If you use a home as a business, all furnishings must be declared to be taxed as business property,” she said. “We identified well over 500 properties and got them on the tax role.”

The VRBO issue – involving people who rent short-term through such websites as vrbo.com – has led to a program across the Colorado Association of Ski Towns to crack down on illegal rentals. Lodging tax is an important revenue source to many mountain communities.

Breakstone’s discovery also led to action in the state Legislature to define websites as agents, who are required to disclose property information to tax entities.

“That’s something I’m very proud of,” she said. “You can’t have some people honestly declaring and some others just skirting the law.”

Breakstone serves as a Colorado representative to the International Association of Assessment Officers and holds a Colorado Real Estate appraiser’s license.

She serves on the Ten Mile Planning Commission, is a past president of the Summit County Garden Club and is a steward of Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. She taught classes to English learners at Colorado Mountain College last summer, according to a handout she provided.

Breakstone has lived in Frisco for eight years after moving from Denver. Her son graduated with a business degree from University of Colorado and works for a payroll company in Florida.


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