Residential values in Routt County up 82.5%. Assessors office now contemplating security measures.
Assessor says only Aspen’s home of Pitkin County is seeing a bigger jump across Colorado and some condos in Steamboat Springs will see 250% value increase.
All was calm in the Routt County Assessor’s Office on Thursday afternoon. It probably won’t be by next week.
On Monday, property valuations will be mailed to Routt County property owners and when they hit mailboxes days later, they will likely arrive with some significant sticker shock.
Across Routt County, median residential property valuations are up by 82.5%, according to Assessor Gary Peterson. The hike is higher in Steamboat Springs, where that median is sitting at 87% for residences. In rural towns in the county — the Oak Creek, Hayden, Yampa and Phippsburg areas — it’s at 62%.
And that is just the median.
Peterson said he looked at the middle 80% of properties, excluding the lowest and highest 10%. What he saw he referred to as “very scary numbers.”
For rural towns the range is a 48% to 88% increase. Jumps for single-family homes in Steamboat are between 61% and 99.5%. That latter number equates to a doubling of property value. Steamboat condos are even worse.
“That’s where it gets really crazy,” Peterson said. “The 80% grouping is [up] between 55% and 130%. … We have accounts going up 250% my townhome appraiser says.”
“Unprecedented, eye-popping, tremendous is a good word,” Peterson said. “I’ve been using substantial for the past couple of months.”
Peterson said his office will not take walk-ins for the foreseeable future.
If property owners want to challenge the assessment, they need to make a 15-minute appointment before June 8. He said they will keep the office doors locked, panic buttons have been installed at desks and the Routt County Commissioners have even contemplated stationing a Routt County Sheriff’s Office vehicle outside the building. A deputy may even occasionally be stationed in the office.
When asked how he thought people would react to skyrocketing valuations, Peterson said “not well.”
“I’m going to have people screaming at me,” Peterson said. “My appraisers are concerned. They’re, genuinely — they have a fear.”
The valuation date for this assessment is June 30, 2022. Peterson said that was likely the top of Colorado’s home price surges coming out of the pandemic. What has happened since then is unclear with some properties being sold for less than the updated valuation, and others being sold for more. Still, what has happened since then doesn’t matter for the next two years’ tax bills.
In the housing boom that led to the Great Recession, residential increases in Routt County were 34% and 30% for the 2007 and 2009 reappraisal period — “The irrational exuberance of 2007,” Peterson said. The new valuation jump is more than that entire four-year period.
“We’ve blown past that and broken that glass ceiling with this reassessment,” Peterson said.
The valuation boom is not isolated to Routt County. Assessors on the Front Range have sought to get ahead of next week’s staggering valuations by getting in front of TV cameras to explain what is happening. In Ouray and San Miguel counties, assessors say the median increase is 66% and 58% respectively.
Still, Peterson estimates that only Pitkin County — where the billionaires are pricing out the millionaires in Apsen — has a higher increase than Routt.
Peterson suggests the reason Routt County’s increase is so high is that Steamboat has always been seen as a ski town where you get more for your money — “There was more room to move here.”
The Routt County Commissioners are attempting to get ahead of the potential hysteria the valuations may cause by including a letter with notices. The letter — obtained by The Yampa Valley Bugle — explains that the county’s mill levies are still governed by Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, often called TABOR, so the county will not see the significant boon from the property values other taxing districts could. The Steamboat Springs School District is still TABOR limited as well.
Because of this, the 82.5% median valuation increase will not equate to the same percentage increase in property taxes.
Due to legislation passed last year, Peterson is required to put a property tax bill estimate or an estimated range on valuations for the first time ever. That is difficult because mill levies won’t be set until the end of the year. Projecting tax bills based on current mill levies is what Peterson described as a “worst-case scenario,” as it would significantly overestimate what the bill will actually be.
Instead, Peterson worked to estimate what the mill levies for the county, school district and other entities could be to give property owners a more realistic range.
But some property owners could still be facing increased property tax bills approaching 50%. Peterson said the value of his house went up 103%. His tax bill was just under $3,100 last year. The estimated range on his valuation is $4,000 to $4,600, an increase to his tax bill of between 29% and 48%.
“If it goes up $1,200, that’s $100 a month on an already large mortgage bill,” Peterson said. “That’s going to affect everybody.”
Taxing districts could opt to lower their mill levies, but it is unclear if they would be able to increase them again if the market takes a dive. TABOR requires any increase in taxes to be approved by voters, so some taxing entities may opt to keep their mill levy where it is now, fearing it could hamper future budgets if voters don’t allow them to bring it back up.
“That’s a big wild card going forward with all these higher assessments,” Peterson said. “What are these special authorities going to do?”
The legislature has made efforts to ease the property tax burden in recent years with these increases in mind, but they have often been labeled as “Band-Aid” fixes following the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment in 2020. Gallagher had shifted the tax burden to commercial properties, which led to stark differences in assessment percentages, but prevented residential bills from stark increases., Still, it often tied the hands of local governments because of TABOR.
The problem has been known to lawmakers for years, but a long-term fix hasn’t come to fruition. Since it was repealed, legislators have lowered the assessed valuation rates and have knocked $15,000 off residential values.
Peterson said those moves will ease the tax burden, but for property owners who see their property values double it won’t be much more than a token decrease.
Efforts are underway to reduce the tax burden in the waning days of the legislative session. One potential bill Peterson has heard of would clarify that county commissioners could lower voter-approved mill levies temporarily and raise them in the future if values drop off. The Colorado Sun reports a bill could be coming from Boulder Democrat and Senate President Steve Fenberg to ease tax bills, but he didn’t offer specifics.
“We’re still putting some finishing touches on what the proposal is going to be,” Fenberg told the Sun. “We obviously don’t have much time left.”