May 2, 2005
El Paso County is sending notices to property owners telling how their land values have changed during the past two years. Property values are a main factor used to calculate taxes, but the numbers aren’t set in stone. Thousands of property owners who do a doubletake when they see double-digit value increases will appeal the amount so they can pay less. Disputing one’s property value often pays off. About half the appeals filed two years ago, after the last reappraisal, resulted in a lower property value. Mark Lowderman, the deputy county assessor, said those who think the value of their property is lower than the appraised amount should file an appeal. “We welcome folks to come in and question their value,” he said. Property owners can file appeals through May 31. Lowderman expects the number of appeals to be much higher than the 3,071 property owners filed in 2003, because property values are going up faster. The value of a typical house in El Paso County went up only 8 percent after the last reappraisal. This time, the average increase was 15 percent over two years, and in some neighborhoods home values went up 24 percent. A successful appeal typically results in $8,000 to $12,000 taken off the value of a house, Lowderman said. For a house in central Colorado Springs, that means the owner paid $37.88 to $56.83 less in property taxes last year. The difference isn’t much, but it adds up for agencies such as El Paso County, public libraries and school districts, which rely heavily on property taxes. A much bigger effect on tax bills comes from businesses’ appeals. Nearly all the top 50 successful appeals from two years ago were filed by businesses, resulting in a collective $83 million reduction in property valuations. That amount of business property would have generated $1 million for Colorado Springs School District 11 last year. Businesses get bigger breaks on their property taxes for a variety of reasons. First, business property is usually worth more, so taking a few percentage points off the value can have a big effect. Many businesses also have people on staff who specialize in taxes and property value, so they’re in a better position to argue for a lower valuation. Another factor is tax rates — businesses pay taxes on 29 percent of the property value, whereas the rate for homes is 7.96 percent. “As far as tax liability goes, they do have more to gain by managing their property value,” Lowderman said. The Intel Corporation filed the most successful appeal in 2003, cutting $6.7 million off the value of its property. The Gazette appealed the value of seven of its properties in 2003. Two of the appeals were successful, resulting in a drop of $351,868 in the newspaper’s property values. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0187 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Gazette researcher Annie Mullin contributed to this story. HOW TO DISPUTE A VALUE The El Paso County Assessor’s Office assigns a value to most properties based on sales of similar properties. An owner who disputes the value can file an appeal today through May 31. The instructions for an appeal are on the back of the notice of value that the Assessor’s Office will send to property owners this week.