Prowers County: Conservation easement valuation still hot topic

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Local residents crowded a recent meeting of the Prowers County Commissioners where conservation easements were being discussed. Here’s a report from Aaron Burnett writing for the Lamar Ledger. From the article:

[Roxy Huber, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue], who was accompanied by Commissioner of Agriculture John Stulp was on hand to address issues surrounding conservation easements. Easements across the state have come under scrutiny in recent years as tax values assigned to many easements have been called into question by the Internal Revenue Service and the state’s department of revenue…

There are several types of easements including ones that restrict gravel or other mineral mining as well as easements that restrict construction or development on property. The current audits being performed on existing easements call into question the amount of tax credit that should be awarded for each individual easement. As the audit process has progressed, some appraisals have been deemed fraudulent even though they were performed by state licensed appraisers. Locally, some land owners have been dealing with easements under audit for close to five years. Some landowners have been told by tax officials that their easements have no value.

“Part of the reason we’re here today is rumor control,” said Commissioner Gene Millbrand about the meeting. He noted that several county landowners have been affected by the issue and have raised concerns to all three members of the board…

Huber told the commissioners that even though there appears to be a disproportionate number of easements in the area being examined, the state is more interested in broad trends than individual regions. “We’re not targeting any particular part of the state. We are targeting systems of corruption,” Huber said. “We understand people feel like they’ve been defrauded,” Huber said. She added that actions of several appraisers have been called into question, but that ultimately the responsibility for an easement’s accuracy in its valuation falls to the individual landowner who places the easement. “While they’re licensed through the state, we can’t stop them from doing shenanigans,” Huber said concerning the auditors whose work has been called into question…

Huber said the state is attempting to resolve issues surrounding easements, but until recently hadn’t all the necessary tools at its disposal. She added that with the passage in 2008 of House Bill 1353 the department of revenue was finally able to discuss easement issues with other state agencies, a practice which has allowed the department of revenue to draw on the expertise of other state departments for such things as valuation of property. Huber noted that prior to the bill’s passage, her department was not able to discuss the easement issue with individuals not directly employed by the department.

Huber said the best option for landowners to take if they have received notification from the state concerning an audit of their easement is to file an objection within the alloted time period. She said this is an important step because it ensures due process for the landowner concerning any issues in question.

The revenue department head said the common timeline for easement reviews begins at the federal level, then is reviewed at the state level following the completion of the federal audit. She added that the state is currently suspending any audits that are currently under federal review pending that outcome. “If you’ve protested, you’re just sitting in the queue,” Huber said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

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