Budget-slashed El Paso County Assessor’s office paying its own way; taxes may go unfigured and uncollected

News that appraisers working for the El Paso County Assessor’s office are now paying for their own training and travel supports testimony offered last week to the state that Colorado is failing to adequately address revenue policy. The El Paso appraisers must undergo regular training to keep their licenses. Without licenses they can’t assess real estate. Without the assessments the county can’t collect taxes, or at least collect the proper amounts.

“[Forgoing license training] would cripple this office’s ability to ensure that all taxable property is on the tax rolls,” says Assessor Mark Lowderman. It’s a state of affairs that works better for property owners than it does for the state.

Colorado Springs Gazette:

In 2005, county commissioners eliminated Lowderman’s $22,000 travel budget. That’s meant his 21 appraisers have had to chip in their own money for lodging and meals at the annual Breckenridge training meetings. Lodging costs about $170 each for a shared condo.

[…]

“It doesn’t sit well with me that my appraisers are having to pay their own lodging to maintain a license they’re required to carry when it’s outlined in state statute that cost will be borne by the county,” Lowderman said.

The El Paso County commissioners, though, are still traveling and training and not paying for it out of pocket. Commissioner Sallie Clark told the Gazette that the $5,600 she spent out of the office budget this year for trips was essential to her job.

“She attended National Association of Counties meetings in Washington, D.C., and Fort Myers, Fla., a meeting of county officials in Vail, and an economic development visit in Austin.”

Carol Hedges, senior analyst at the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, who testified last week before the state’s Interim Committee on Fiscal Stability, might now add the El Paso appraiser saga to her list of the revealing problems hobbling the state’s attempts to pull in the money it is owed. She likened state revenue policy to a neglected car engine perpetually leaking oil.

Here is some of what she told the Committee last week. The full pdf is here.

The Joint Budget Committee spends most of its time and its staff devotes a great deal of effort determining the effects of appropriations. Yet little time is devoted to reviewing the effects and outcome of our tax credits, exemptions and other adjustments to income, even though they have the exact same impact on our ability to provide public services. The document you have received on income and sales tax credits and exemptions is a start. It does not, however, provide performance information on whether these targeted tax cuts are accomplishing their objective.

Further it does not contain any information about adjustments against corporate income or policies that affect where and how corporate income is allocated. These seem so technical and so boring, but they may be costing us millions of dollars that could be used to reduce tuition costs, decrease class sizes, provide health insurance or build roads. For example, currently Colorado tax law allows corporations to carry forward net operating losses for 20 years and Colorado does not require withholding for out of state tax payers.

Another of the NCSL principles is fair and efficient administration of the tax system and one of the most basic tenets of a fair system is making sure everyone who owes, pays. Yet today on the Department of Revenue website the list of delinquent taxpayers, those who owe more than $20,000 for longer than 6 months, includes 1300 individuals and 389 corporations. Assuming the minimum liability to be listed, making good on these delinquent bills would yield over $33 million. Yet the Department of Revenue lacks the staff and computer resources to collect on those delinquencies and another 10% reduction in funding will probably not improve that situation. The department has nearly 100 fewer employees today than it did in 1988.

Our fiscal situation reminds me of the car I drove as a college student. It developed a slow oil leak. I found that I could ignore the leak for a while and while I am sure it wasn’t great for the engine, I could drive it. At some point, the oil light would come on, Most of the time I would then put in some oil and deal with the problem. One time, however, I was in the middle of finals, and I was broke and I thought it would be okay to drive home and well….My dad was not happy when we had to replace the engine. Colorado’s fiscal environment is a lot like my car.

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