Verify the facts prior to protest

The Citizen’s Financial Advisory Task Force urged the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) Tuesday, to conduct an audit of a recently completed software conversion project, and individual taxpayers — in light of certain astronomical property valuation increases — may be well advised to conduct an audit of their own.

The $500,000 integrated software project — launched Dec. 16, 2008 — sought to link the assessor, treasurer and finance departments and, aside from a series of challenges with the treasurer’s conversion, the project has succeeded.

Nevertheless, and despite the fact the conversion has brought major improvements to the offices involved, the transition hasn’t been easy and some fear inaccurate data may have been transferred from the old system to the new when the county made the software switch, hence the task force’s call for a review.

Reading from a prepared statement, task force member Les Mundall said, “The county has made a significant investment of time and money in converting to new data processing systems. To ensure the accurate performance of the new system going forward, we recommend that the county perform a detailed data review to ensure that all data transferred to the new system was both complete and accurate.”

As part of the recommendation, the task force suggested hiring an outside consultant to conduct the review.

“We feel it’s important to bring in an outside party, independent of the process,” said task force member Les Mundall.

Task force member J.R. Ford urged the county to conduct the data review sooner rather than later.

“We need to have someone come in and look at this data before we build the next budget,” Ford said.

Although the commissioners were receptive to the idea, a decision to implement the recommendation may not come until late July.

Although a late July decision may allow county staff and the proposed outside consultant ample time to complete the project before the 2010 budget preparation cycle, the schedule — and the method — will likely not reveal data errors on a parcel-by-parcel or account-by-account basis, nor would it be complete in time to help individual taxpayers, some of whom could be facing higher property tax bills as a result of inaccurate information transferred in the software conversion.

Conduct your own audit

Taxpayers have until July 1 to file a protest with the Archuleta County Assessor if they disagree with their property value as it is listed on the assessor’s Notice of Valuation. All property owners should have received this notice in the mail the week of June 1.

Although property values are determined using the mass appraisal method, the property profile in the assessor’s data base may have a bearing on the property’s value, as reported on the Notice of Valuation.

That said, one of the simplest audits a taxpayer can conduct is to check with the assessor’s staff to ensure that their property’s actual characteristics match the property profile stored in the assessor’s database. Any discrepancies between the assessor’s records and the property’s actual characteristics could render an inaccurate assessment of the property’s value. It is important to note, however, that properties were valued for the assessment period as they existed on Jan. 1, 2009.

Taxpayers can also view their property profile on the Web. Go to www.archuletacounty.org and click on “Archuleta County Assessor and Treasurer Records Search and On-Line Mapping Application.” The link is found on the county home page.

Next stop:

the treasurer’s office

In addition to inquiring with the assessor’s office, taxpayers can review their accounts with Archuleta County Treasurer Betty Diller.

Diller has been hardest hit by difficulties with the software conversion, and although much of the conversion work is done, Diller continues to fine tune processes and review data in preparation for her mid year report.

Although Diller said she has experienced few problems with individual taxpayer accounts, she said, “What we have found is that the new software, in very few cases, is not reflecting the first property tax payment.”

In addition, Diller said there have been instances of “integration problems” between her office and the assessor’s office.

“There has been some time lag. Some information did not travel over to our system as quickly as we thought it would,” Diller said.

Although Diller’s difficulties have largely transcended individual account problems, taxpayers can conduct a quick audit of their accounts to ensure their property taxes (and personal property taxes, when applicable) have been paid and other account information is up to date.

Should there be a discrepancy between the treasurer’s information and the taxpayer’s data, taxpayers should be prepared to show cancelled checks or receipts to clear their account.

BoCC decision

In the meantime, while taxpayers are checking their accounts and perhaps mounting a protest to their Notice of Valuation, the BoCC said Tuesday they would consider the task force recommendation and would provide an answer in writing.

That response will likely come at the July 21, regular BoCC meeting.

james@pagosasun.com