SAGUACHE — County Assessor Peter Peterson reported Friday during a phone interview that corrections now have been made and sent out to a sizeable number of Saguache property owners who received incorrect reappraisals in May.
“We had 249 protests,” Peterson noted on Friday. “That’s not what I expected.”
When the county upgraded to a new computer system this year, some tax notices were affected by a glitch in the computer system because the old formulas for evaluating properties were not compatible with the new system, Peterson commented May 16. The problems caused by the transfer from one system to another was “not anticipated and threw a whole bunch of values off,” Peterson commented.
The state is aware of the problem and is working with the county, Peterson said.
Some residents received incorrect evaluations in May and others received no evaluations at all. There is no way of knowing how many property owners did not receive their initial evaluations and this is of some concern to him, Peterson said, but all the evaluations affected by the glitch now have been reissued.
Commissioners will meet as the County Board of Equalization July 1-Aug. 5 if property owners still object to the re-evaluations. From there they can be appealed to the State Board of Equalization.
“One way or the other, even for those who didn’t file an appeal, everyone will get their values corrected,” Peterson promised.
According to an earlier article in the "Crestone Eagle" by Lisa Cyriacks, County Co-administrator Lyn Zimmer-Lambert reports there are five full-time employees working in the assessor’s office including Stephens. Stephens is paid $2,400 a month with benefits on a contract basis. And that doesn’t sit well with some county residents, who feel that not only did Stephens not face any consequences from the state, she even managed to unofficially retain her position.
At the time Stephens was hired, Peterson was not licensed as an assessor and needed the help seating into his office, he says. Little else has changed in the office, he reported earlier this year, although he commented that the close quarters he and Stephens are required to occupy (a crowded mobile home office space behind the courthouse) makes it difficult for them to do their work.
Peterson and Stephens say they still are facing many of the same problems that existed in 2011 when the state stepped in to help the county catch up on property assessments.
According to Peterson, he “pushes to make his office as accommodating as possible,” but cannot take everyone out of the office for appraisals and still keep it open. Residents complain they cannot receive the assistance they need from the assessor’s office. Peterson and Stephens blame commissioners for not funding the office in order to hire another employee to help work in the field assessing new construction projects.
But Cyriacks writes in her article that according to Commissioner Tim Lovato, $18,000 sits in the budget for the assessor’s office that has not been used to fund a part-time field position. Zimmer-Lambert confirms this.
“The statewide annual audit for 2015 shows a total of 2,204 residences in Saguache County,” Cyriacks notes in her article. “The State Demography Office shows a total of 2,598 households in 2015 for a population of 6,108 (US Census 2010) with an average household size of 2.37. Taking the difference of 394 homes times the median value of owner-occupied units in Saguache County ($142,200) results in $56,026,800 actual value.”
Cyriacks also points to the fact that Saguache has the second largest number of private acreage in the Valley, with Costilla County reporting 786,168 and Saguache 509,037. Tax revenues for Costilla run $124,819,695, and Saguache runs $73,732,008. Conejos County, with only about half the private acreage, brings in six million more — $79,974,186. There seems to be no ready explanation for the differences.