Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Arapahoe County nixes property-valuation appeals of some using lawyers

In an effort to save $25,000, the Arapahoe County board charged with considering property-tax-assessment appeals has denied all requests from commercial and vacant-land owners who use an attorney. The unprecedented decision, reached late last month, comes at a time when the slumping economy has prompted more businesses to appeal their tax valuation.

County officials said they were trying to streamline the appeals process by allowing unsatisfied business owners to bypass the county board and go straight to a higher-level state appeals board.

But some tax attorneys worry that their clients have been denied a state-protected right to appeal and that some businesses won't be able to weather a longer journey through bureaucracy.

"It's discrimination," said Ray Meissner, who has represented businesses during the appeals process for 23 years. "It's unfair because they have to pay higher taxes now in hopes of getting part of it back as a refund."

State law says the county Board of Equalization "shall receive and hear petitions from any person" who couldn't resolve his or her objections to a property valuation with the county assessor.

Now, the companies that have been denied have three options: file a lawsuit in Arapahoe County District Court, request a hearing with the state Board of Assessment Appeals or enter binding arbitration.

Assistant County Attorney George Rosenberg said he doesn't believe anyone is being denied the right to appeal because unsatisfied property owners could have met with the county assessor, and they can still approach the state Board of Assessment Appeals.

Possibly a First

Chip Taylor, executive director of Colorado Counties Inc., which advises local governments, said he couldn't remember a time when a county issued an administrative denial to all business owners with a lawyer or tax agent.

Taylor declined to comment on the legality of Arapahoe County's decision, saying only: "I'm sure that they reviewed that with their legal staff."

Mike Beery, director of the state Board of Assessment Appeals, said he could not comment on the county's procedures because the state might have to hear some of the county's cases.

Beery said it is common for large businesses to request an administrative denial at the county level, but he could not remember a time when a county issued a blanket administrative denial such as the one in Arapahoe.

Beery said his board will work with Arapahoe County to schedule appeals for businesses that received the denial.

Estimated to Be Hundreds

Rosenberg and Arapahoe County spokeswoman Andrea Rasizer said they did not know how many business and vacant-land owners received the denial because their clerk was on vacation. They estimated that the number was in the hundreds.

A collection of county staff members proposed the idea to deny businesses with tax agents or attorneys, and the county commissioners approved it.

"Arapahoe County is always looking to use taxpayer dollars in the most efficient manner possible," Rasizer said. "When you look historically at how many of these cases have moved on to the state board of appeal and have requested that they get an administrative denial, they thought it was the best use of Arapahoe County taxpayers' dollars."

Rosenberg said some large businesses have thanked him for saving them a step in the appeals process. Others were neutral or angry, he said.

Rasizer and Rosenberg said they did not know how many businesses request a denial in any given year.

Both said the blanket denial allowed the county to save about $25,000 by reducing the number of hours they had to pay a referee to listen to the appeals cases.

"This is the first time we've done it," Rasizer said, "and it may not be permanent."

By Liz Navratil, The Denver Post, or 303-954-1054

Source: The Denver Post

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