December 2009

Taxing the public’s patience

By David Feela

The next time my birthday comes around, I’m going to claim I turned a year and half younger. When my income taxes are due, I’m planning to duplicate copies of my salary from 2002, explaining that for seven years my cost-of-living raise has been declared legally dead. I’m going to stick with my weight when I was 29, my eyesight as 20/20, and I’m going to use up all my 42-cent postage stamps and pretend the latest postal-rate increase never happened.

I know this all sounds a little backward, but has anyone else received their latest assessment from the Montezuma County assessor’s office? They just assessed my 2009 property taxes with values from mid-2007, before the real-estate bubble popped and while property was still selling like pop tarts.

No doubt Montezuma County residents don’t have to try to imagine this, because if they read the news regularly they know that while property values have plummeted around the nation, assessed local land and house values have actually increased. If they went downtown to complain like I did, they were probably not consoled to learn that the spike in our county’s proposed property taxes is just a technicality of timing. I was told not to worry, the county is just playing catch-up.

I was even told it’s possible that once the county starts the process of assessing property values for its next cycle of taxes — which would take into consideration the downturn in the real-estate market—- my taxes might even go down. “Duh-down?” I stammered. “You want me to use the word ‘down’ in the same sentence with ‘taxes?’”

I had to be hearing things wrong, but no, it was clear the poor secretary inundated with complaints had to offer some carrot of hope — even if it ranked as a miracle—- to quell the rising tide of irate taxpayers washing up against her desk.

The practice of assessing non-current values is completely legal, though it strikes me as questionable. Why anyone, much less an entire county (and state), would choose to live in the past is beyond me. Property ought to be assessed based on its current value and then taxed appropriately. Even the poorest people on earth understand the basics of consumer economics: When the food is plentiful, eat plenty; when the food supply is lean, lose a few pounds and pickle your greens.

What a world it would be if we could all live so that the consequences for any stupid decisions we make don’t take place for another year and a half. I know, that’s a little too much like the court system, but it’s going to take me at least another year to figure out what I want to write about that subject.

And if I’ve said anything here that makes anyone upset, please remember, there’s a year-and-a-half grace period before you are allowed to send any complaints to the editor.

David Feela writes from Montezuma County, Colo.