Dollars and good sense

When times are difficult, and yet more bad news arrives at the doorstep (or in the mailbox), people get flustered. And flustered many of us are, what with the recent delivery of Notices of Valuation from the Archuleta County Assessor.

We are upset because, though our assessor, Keren Prior, has warned on several occasions that many, if not most, valuations would go up this time around, few people paid attention to her comments. She played straight with us, but most of us didn’t realize we were going to be hit by the hammer until we were on the floor, dazed and bleeding.

Indeed, the numbers in many cases went up, sometimes way up. That is not good news for homeowners, and even less good news for vacant land and commercial owners.

Now, the hooting begins, a great deal of it misguided. Some who complain are reaching new heights in terms of absurdity — blaming Obama, the Town of Pagosa Springs, the county. Others wrongly center the complaint solely on the assessor. County assessors work with formulae and a process mandated by statute. The period of sales and appraisals from which figures are drawn is determined for the assessors. This time around, unfortunately, the values were figured during a period in which the inflation of local real estate values was at a peak. As a result, many homeowners have received increases of 30 percent, or more. Some vacant landowners have seen a huge increase, thanks largely to the artificially inflated value of vacant land created by rampant corporate speculation and sales.

Yelling and goofy theories are not going to drive the valuations down. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: There is an appeal process available, and it must be indulged. And, it must be indulged with more than a “Woe is me” approach. There are materials that must be presented to make an appeal viable, at any of the three levels of the process available to the taxpayer. See the front-page article in this paper for details on the process and materials.

We can add one more element that will stick in the craw of many local property taxpayers: a senior exemption with regard to property tax has been suspended for 2009. With the stroke of the governor’s pen, legislation suspending that exemption was passed into law. The only exemption remaining to a significant number of local residents is that granted to veterans, and application must be made by July 1, the process beginning at the local Veterans Service Office. See a related article in this SUN for details. If you are a veteran, inquire now and apply, if you can.

The other difficult news we hear relates to unemployment figures, to the probable loss of population in the county and to the continuing difficult, general business picture in Pagosa Country.

It does no good to deny the facts; it is of no value to act like a caffeine-addled cheerleader in the face of a sluggish economy.

But, there is also no call for a doom-spewing Cassandra. We have to come to grips with the need for a strong summer and do all we can, as individuals, businesses, groups, to ensure that trade here flourishes as much as possible, by catering to our visitors and seasonal residents, and by buying local whenever possible. Our visitors are here to enjoy themselves and we should make sure they do. Our attitudes count. As do our attitudes toward local businesses. If the price is reasonable, buy here. The difference of a couple dollars is more than erased by a long motor trip elsewhere. Our friends and neighbors need the trade, so send it their way. Meanwhile, collect the data, jump into the process, and make your tax protest heard … the sensible way.

Karl Isberg