San Luis Valley News

By Patty LaTaille

State Stalks Stalled Saguache Tax Assessments

State officials and Colorado taxpayers are concerned about tens of thousands of dollars in school funding that they’ve collectively paid to Saguache County in recent years due to a county assessor who has “slacked off” in adding new construction to the county tax coffers.

This failure to perform resulted in some property owners – including Saguache County commissioners and other government officials – paying property taxes that are a fraction of what they should be, while others paid full assessment value.

During the recent state-ordered examination, officials discovered approximately 1,535 building permits that had been issued, but that the state could not confirm had ever been reviewed and added to the county’s tax rolls. A few of those permits were more than a decade old.

The lack of assessed value meant the state picked up the tab for subsidizing school funding that it otherwise would not have been required to pay – with only a portion that will be reimbursed.

The Baca Grande Water District had sent Saguache County Assessor Jackie Stephens a list of 85 residential properties that have had homes on them for years – some more than 10 years – but are still recorded as vacant land. The district had also alerted Stephens of properties with improvements that have yet to be added.

In fact, a few years prior, the water district had made a monetary donation to the assessor’s office to try to get the property records brought up to date, but Stephens – who said the work wasn’t getting done because she was understaffed – never got fully caught up, a lawyer for the district wrote. Her office had four full-time staff members.

The discovery revealed a serious statewide gap in verifying county tax rolls. In the almost 30 years of state-auditing assessors’ offices, there has never been verification that new construction was being added. The Denver Post noted that state officials commented, “That’s because it never occurred to lawmakers or state officials that an assessor – intentionally or not – might not make adding new construction a top priority.”

Stephens told The Denver Post that she accepted responsibility for what happened.

“It was my job to do,” she said, “and I slacked off.”


Be Bear-Aware

Bears have been actively searching for food during this drought-ridden, berry-less summer. They’ve broken into buildings, killed livestock and damaged property in the Crestone, South Fork, Creede and San Luis areas. Leaving food and garbage in areas that are easily accessible for bears cause significant problems.

According to the Valley Courier, “It’s the responsibility of the property owner to remove items that are attracting bears,” Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for the San Luis Valley, said. “Homeowners and campers will be ticketed and may be required to appear in court for failing to take remedial action to remove items that are attracting black bears.”


Car Theft and Crush

Saguache Sheriff’s deputies arrested William (Matthew) Starkey, 34, of Center Aug. 12 and Kreg Berry, 23, from Monte Vista on Aug. 16 in relation to the theft of 21 plus vehicles in rural Saguache County near Moffat. A relative of one the individuals impacted by the crime checked with three local scrap yards in Monte Vista, La Jara and Del Norte and located the vehicles – already crushed – which led to the scrap yards releasing of records and the eventual arrests.

Apparently Starkey denied the thefts at first, saying he had been paid to remove his neighbors’ cars from various locations.

Starkey and Kreg reportedly brought in a total 24 cars to the dealers – (with three others in question in a second case), and only 15 owners have been identified. So SLV residents might want to check around for their cars, running or not. In other states, the law regulates that scrap yards require a title – proving ownership – before vehicles are crushed, yet evidently that’s not the case in Colorado.