About That Appraisal…

County Assessor Ken Milder, left, and Chief Deputy Assessor Joaquin Valdez present an overview of their office to the Kiwanis Club. Photo by Don Casperson

 

By CHARMIAN SCHALLER
Kiwanis Club

In a timely talk this month, elected County Assessor Ken Milder gave Kiwanis a brief overview of his office and its procedures as applied to residential property. Chief Deputy Assessor Joaquin Valdez also attended the meeting.

Milder heads a staff of seven. He said, “I’m really enjoying being assessor.” He has found, he said, that throughout New Mexico, the Los Alamos County Assessor’s Office is viewed as a model to emulate, and everyone praises Valdez. For these reasons, Milder said, “The job has been really easy for me so far.”

Milder and Valdez handed out a two-sided information sheet intended to help Kiwanis members (and county residents in general) understand the property tax process.

From the public’s point of view, the process begins each year on or about April 1 with a “notice of  value” form sent from the Assessor’s Office. The form lists the “assessor’s appraised value”; the “taxable value” (33.33 percent of the appraiser value); the tax rate; and the taxes due. For example, a property with an appraised value of $150,000 would have a taxable value of $50,000. If the tax rate stood at 0.022014, the taxes due would come to $1,100.70.

However, the process is not as open and shut as it appears at first glance.

To start with, a property owner may appeal the notice of value during a 30-day period after the notice is issued. Usually, the final day for a protest is April 30. “If there’s a mistake, we want to know,” Milder said. If you miss the April 30 deadline, you can still file a “claim for refund” with district court. Such a filing costs about $20, and you have to pay your tax bill as listed, but the money you send in is held in a suspense fund until the case is decided. There are applicable deadlines here too. Make sure you understand them if you plan to file a claim.

In addition, there are rules and opportunities that can save some property owners a lot of money on their taxes. For example, it’s important to read the following paragraph in the Assessor’s Office information sheet with great care:

“Los Alamos County reappraises property each year. The total value determined by the assessor for real property each tax year is based on the market value of the property in the prior year. For example, your 2014 notice of value will reflect a 2013 market value. However, there are restrictions against increasing residential property valuations, i.e. houses, apartments, manufactured homes. Under state law, valuation increases on residential property must not exceed 3 percent per year of the prior year’s assessed value.” For example, if the assessor’s full value of your property in 2013 was $100,000, your 2014 assessor’s full value cannot exceed $103,000.

Furthermore, there are benefits and exemptions for which you might qualify. Many people miss out on savings because they don’t understand what is possible. Here’s the basic list:

  • There is a “head of family exemption” that provides for a  $2,000 reduction of the taxable value of residential real estate. However, only one person in a household may qualify as “head of family,” and the exemption may be applied in only one county in the state.
  • There is a “veteran’s exemption”—a $4,000 reduction in the taxable value of real estate—available to any honorably discharged veteran (or the veteran’s unmarried surviving spouse). To get this exemption, you must apply to the New Mexico Veterans Service Commission in Santa Fe for a “certificate of eligibility,” and, in the first year, present the certificate to the Assessor’s Office within the applicable deadline. Once the exemption is in place, it is applied to the property until the ownership of the property changes.
  • Any certified veteran who is deemed 100 percent disabled (and any such veteran’s unmarried surviving spouse) may qualify for a 100% exemption from property taxes on his/her place of residence.
  • And if a person is 65 or older or permanently disabled (at any age) AND has a modified gross income below a certain level ($32,.000 in 2014), that person may apply for the “property valuation freeze” for his/her residence.

Property owners also have obligations. New Mexico law requires that residential sales information be disclosed to the Asseassor’s Office, which is then required to keep it confidential. And if a property owner makes improvements that amount to more than $10,000, this too must be reported to the Assessor’s Office—by the last day of February in the appropriate year.

Feeling frustrated? It’s important to remember that the Assessor’s Office doesn’t set taxes. Voters approve tax rates. The Assessor’s Office independently values property. (The state does assessing of certain kinds of property as well.) The treasurer (the county manager here) then bills and collects the taxes.

Milder emphasized that if you can’t figure out what you should do, you may contact the Assessor’s Office. The office is located at 1000 Central Ave., Ste. 210, in Los Alamos, and the telephone number is 505.662.8030.

Questions from Kiwanis members revealed how important—and how difficult—all this can be. Barbara Stoddard quipped, “Do you do house calls?” She noted that her late husband, Steve Stoddard, had head-of-household and veteran’s exemptions. He has been gone for two years now, she said, but she’s still not sure that she has done all that she needs to do. (Valdez joined the conversation, and summarized the Veterans Service Commission process. Milder told her, “Widows are eligible for the veteran’s exemption of their spouse.”)

Kristy Ortega asked about the rules affecting rentals, and Valdez said that the head of household property tax exemption is only for one property.

The Los Alamos County Assessor’s Office drew praise from two speakers. Cheryl Pongratz said, “We pay property taxes in three different places. This is by far the best place.” And Lisa Wismer said she has called Valdez often with questions related to the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, and she has found that, “He is a wonderful resource.”

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