Property Tax Increases for 2023 / 2024 Will Be Limited by TABOR in Some Jurisdictions  

A couple weeks ago in this column, I warned homeowners that the current rise in home values means a proportionate increase in property valuations as of June 30, 2022, and therefore a likely rise in property taxes for 2023 and 2024.

I wrote that because of a typical 30% increase in what your home could have sold for on June 30, 2022, versus June 30, 2020, your property taxes could increase by 30%, but that didn’t take into account the effect of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which restricts how much revenue each tax jurisdiction can keep to population growth plus the increase in the cost of living.

Under TABOR, if a taxing jurisdiction collects more than that formula allows, it must refund the excess to the taxpayers.

However, many (but not all) jurisdictions obtained voter approval to keep any excess revenue. The term for this common ballot measure is “de-Brucing,” after Douglas Bruce, the author of TABOR.

All but two counties passed such ballot measures and won’t have to refund their excess revenues to taxpayers — or, more commonly, reduce their mill levies so they only collect the allowed amount of revenue. Jefferson County is one of those counties that has not de-Bruced, so Jeffco will likely reduce its mill levy for 2023 and 2024 to limit their property tax revenue despite the increase in valuations.

In any county, however, the biggest mill levy is that of the school district, and, again, most school districts, including Jeffco’s, have   de-Bruced and can enjoy the coming windfall in revenue by not reducing their mill levies.

Any given property’s mill levy is the sum of individual mill levies from multiple taxing jurisdictions. You can see all those mill levies by looking for your property on the country assessor’s website. For example, in Jeffco, you’d go to http://propertysearch.jeffco.us. In other counties, just Google the county’s name + “assessor.”

For any given address, you’re likely to find between 5 and 15 different jurisdictions with individual mill levies. In unincorporated areas of Jefferson County, for example, you’ll find separate mill levies for the county, for Jeffco schools, for the country sheriff (“law enforcement”), for your local water district, local park district, local fire district, RTD, storm water and flood control district, etc. 

As an aside, a lot of people think that “unincorporated” translates to lower property taxes, but the opposite is true. Consider the following: the West Metro Fire District, serving much of Lakewood, collects about 13.2 mills from property owners in its taxing district — and that’s just for fire protection. Meanwhile, the City of Golden’s current mill levy is less than that (12.34 mills) and includes all municipal services — fire, police, parks and recreation, and more. Golden may have higher real estate prices, but our real estate is taxed at a lower rate than in most other areas.

This Week Homeowners Received Updated Valuations From the County Assessor

Taxes in Colorado can’t be raised without a vote of the people, so why do your property taxes go up every other year? The answer is simple — while the rate of taxation (the “mill levy”) can’t be increased without a vote of the people, the valuation of your home does go up based on the market, thereby raising your property taxes.

Unlike many states (for example, California), Colorado’s constitution requires that property taxes be based on the full valuation of the property. It is not based on what you paid for your house, but on what it might have sold for on June 30 of every even numbered year based on the actual sales of comparable homes in your neighborhood, with “neighborhood” defined by type of home, not just locale. One example in Golden is “high end townhomes” and skips around a wide swath of north and south Golden proper.

While the full valuation of your home for next year’s tax bill may be based on what it would have sold for on June 30th of last year, that valuation is based on what your home was like on January 1st of this year. So, if you made a major improvement since last June that was completed by January 1st and that was permitted (the only way the assessor knows about it), your valuation would be based on what your improved home would have sold for last June!

Fortunately, since the valuation of your home is based on what it would have sold for on June 30th of last year, that valuation does not reflect the extreme bidding up of home prices we have seen since last June.

The mill levy for your home is not applied to that full valuation but to 7.15% of it. That’s called the “assessed valuation.” As a quick and easy example, if your home is worth $1,000,000, the assessed valuation is $71,500, and if your mill levy is 100 mills, your tax for 2021 and 2022 for that million dollar home would be $7,150. (“Mill” is from the Latin word for thousand, so the mill levy is applied to each thousand dollars of assessed valuation. Thus, 71.5 thousand dollars multiplied by 100 mills = $7,150.)

TABOR, Douglas Bruce’s 1996 “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” limits how much money any taxing jurisdiction can retain based on population growth plus inflation. Unless a taxing jurisdiction has “de-Bruced,” that jurisdiction must refund the excess to its taxpayers. The preferred method, however, is to lower the mill levy so that less money is collected in the first place. In some cases, the yearly decline in mill levies due to increased property values has resulted in little or no increase in the property tax bill.

Overall, county assessors have determined that home valuations increased by ½ percent per month over the 24-month assessment cycle from July 2018 to June 2020, so if your home’s 2021 valuation has increased by a lot more than 12% over its 2019 valuation, and there have been no permitted improvements or additions to your property during that two-year period, then you may have a basis for appealing your new valuation.

In my own case, the valuation increase over that period was 34.2%, so I will be appealing my new valuation, since I have made no capital improvements to my home since 2018. I won my appeal two years ago, so my 2018 valuation is acceptable to me. If you didn’t appeal in 2019, or if your appeal wasn’t successful, you may want to appeal even if your 2020 valuation’s increase is close to that 12% average valuation increase.

Any appeal must cite qualified comparable sales which you’ll only find by clicking on the “Sales” tab on the assessor’s web page for your home. Any other comps will be rejected, so don’t ask me or your own agent to find any for you. Remember to “age” the sold prices by 1/2 percent for each month that a given comp’s sale occurred prior to June 2020.

Property Taxes in 2019 Will Be Based on the Value of Your Home This Saturday

Real_Estate_Today_bylineColorado’s constitution mandates that every county assessor base the assessment of real estate taxes on the full market valuation of each parcel as of June 30th of every even-numbered year. Next May, the assessor will mail out an estimated value as of this Saturday to each parcel owner, giving until June 1st to challenge the assessor’s valuation.

If you are wondering how much your property taxes might go up for the next 2-year cycle, you need only compare what your home might have sold for on June 30, 2016, with what it could sell for now, based on the sale of comparable homes.

Although June MLS statistics aren’t complete yet, let’s compare current sales statistics with those from June 2016. (Remember: Not all sales are on the MLS.)

Statistics for Denver:

Using REcolorado (Denver’s MLS) as my source, the average price per total square foot (PSF) of condos and townhomes in the City & County of Denver rose from $279 in June 2016 to $320 this month. That is a 14.7% increase in value, which is surprising, given that the median sold price during that same timeframe increased from $277,250 to $380,500, a 37.2% increase.

During that same period the average price per total square foot of detached single family homes rose from $231 to $271, a 17.3% increase, although the median sold price increased by 20% (from $405,000 to $486,200).

These calculations are for Denver as a whole. There will, of course, be greater or lesser valuation changes in different Denver neighborhoods.  Here are some examples, based on price per total square foot:

Green Valley Ranch – 10.7%

Northeast Denver – 14.9%

Cherry Creek, Hilltop, Montclair – 15.4%

Southeast Denver (Alameda to Evans) – 10.5%

Southeast Denver (south of Evans) – 10.7%

Downtown Denver (to Platte River) – 19.8%

Northwest Denver (Sloans Lake, Highland, Berkeley, Sunnyside) – 18.4%

Golden Triangle  – 9.6%

West Denver (Colfax to 6th Ave. only) – 24.9%

West Denver (6th Ave. to Alameda) – 14.9%

Southwest Denver (Alameda to Jewell) – 24.4%

Southwest Denver (south of Jewell Ave.) – 24.4%

Valuations also can vary based on style. For example, across Denver ranch style (1 story) homes saw an increase in price per total square foot of 19.3%, whereas non-ranch style homes saw an average increase of 13.8%. 

The age of the home can also make a difference. Single family detached homes built before 1990 saw their average PSF values increase by 16.2%, whereas homes built in 1990 or later increased by 11.5%. 

Statistics for Jefferson County:

Using REcolorado (Denver’s MLS) as my source, the average price per total square foot of condos and townhomes in Jefferson County rose from $188 in June 2016 to $232 this month. That is a 23.4% increase in value. Condos increased their value by 21%, and townhomes increased their value by 26.4%.

During that same period the average price per total square foot of detached single family homes rose from $175 to $211, a 20.6% increase.  

These calculations are for Jefferson County as a whole. There will, of course, be greater or lesser valuation changes in every city and in every subdivision.

Here are the increases broken down by city addresses (which can include unincorporated areas):

Arvada – 20.9%

Lakewood – 21.4%

Golden addresses  – 8.8%

Littleton addresses – 13.6%

Wheat Ridge – 24.3%

Evergreen addresses – 10.2%

Smaller cities such as Lakeside and Edgewater did not have a enough sales to produce statistically valid percentages.

Valuations also can vary based on style. For example, ranch style (1 story) homes in Jeffco saw an increase in price per total square foot of 20.7%, whereas 2-story homes saw an increase of 17.3%. 

The age of the home can also make a difference. Single family detached homes built before 1990 saw their average PSF values increase by 18.8%, whereas homes built in 1990 or later increased by 12.7%. 

Conclusion:

All these variations point to only one conclusion — that you need to use the tools provided on the Denver and Jeffco assessors’ web pages (which I’ll explain in a May 2019 column) to determine whether the assessor has valued your home correctly. Last May I challenged the increase on my own home, and, by using the eligible comps listed on the assessor’s website, I received a reduction of nearly $150,000.

Lastly, let me share how the Gallagher Amendment to the state constitution serves to reduce the impact of increased valuations on residential property tax bills.

That amendment fixes the assessment ratio for non-residential property at 29% of the full valuation. For example, if a commercial property has a full valuation of $1 million, the assessed value against which the mill levy is applied is 29% of that amount, or $290,000.  Because that assessment ratio remains fixed at 29%, and because the amendment requires that non-residential property taxes equal 55% of the total property tax revenue statewide, the ratio applied to residential properties keeps dropping from 21% when the Gallagher Amendment took effect in 1982.  Last year, that ratio dropped to 7.2%,  and it is projected to drop to 6.11% next year.  The end result could actually be a reduced assessed valuation even in the face of an increased full valuation.

Let’s say your home was worth $400,000 in 2016, with an assessed value of $28,800 (7.2%). Now your home is worth $500,000, a 25% increase, but if the assessment ratio is reduced to 6.11% as expected, the mill levy will now be applied to an assessed value of $30,550 — an increase of less than 6.1%.  Thus, if the mill levy remains unchanged, your property taxes will increase by only 6.1%, even though your home’s value (as determined by the assessor) increased by 25%.

Moreover, mill levies from many of the different taxing districts keep declining as a result of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) provision of the constitution, so your actual property tax increase in the above example could well be less than 5%.