Commissioners Buoyed by County Arguments at State Supreme Court
Hinsdale County Commissioners rushed through an abbreviated agenda on Wednesday, November 14, in order to host a public viewing at 9 a.m., livestreaming that morning’s session of the Colorado Supreme Court in Denver.
Of particular interest was Hinsdale County Attorney Michael O’Loughlin who traveled to the state capital to present the Hinsdale County Board of Equalization and Board of Assessment Appeals before the Colorado Supreme Court.
Respondents in the case are a handful of property owners at the Lake Fork Hunt Club north of Lake City. Several years ago, property owners challenged the local tax assessment. When their appeal lost at the local and state appeal process, the group took the matter before the Colorado Court of appeals and won.
Hinsdale County, believing this to be a problematic precedent, took the case to the Colorado Supreme Court for a decision. O’Loughlin hoped to show that the Court of Appeals erred in their determination the Lake Fort homeowners association, which manages the subdivision — rather than the individual title deed holders of the individual subdivision parcels — is actually subject to real property taxation due to covenants permiting the association to restrict property access for nonpayment of association assessments.
O’Loughlin presented a case showing the Court of Appeals also erred in deciding that record title owners of real property are not the true owners of the property and, therefore, are not responsible for property taxes and that, instead, an entity that the club who enforces covenants on the property is the true owner.
Lake Fork respondents included in the case are listed as HDH Partnership; Lawrence Ausherman; Mark L. Ish; Herb Marchman; Hondros Family Real Estate, LLC; and Teresa M. Null Revocable Trust.
The local Hunt Club’s stance has suggested the individual owners of the 29 parcels were not liable for taxation and the tax burden rested with the Club.
O’Loughlin presented Hinsdale County’s position before the panel of Colorado Supreme Court judges, arguing the perils of this line of reasoning and noting that fee simple deed ownership was the lynch pin of property ownership, as well as the basis of property taxation.
It was the owners’ ability to profit from the individual sale of their individual parcels, O’Laughlin contended, which indicated the 14,000- acre hunt club ranch was not “commonly “ owned by the tenant.
Mike Russell, representing the listed Lake Fork Hunt Club clients, argued the property should be taxed commensurate with any like-sized acreage and the assessment divided among the owners. He argued the Court of Appeals was warranted in their judgement because the owners had access and use of all the acreage for hunting, camping and fishing, and the restrictive covenants prevent owners from building on the parcels. Russell staunchly held that Hinsdale County was in error in this tax assessment process.
The judges questioned both attorneys during their presentation on various points of law and made sure they understood the ripple effect should they uphold the Court of Appeals decision, which O’Loughlin suggested would up-end and overly complicate the property tax assessment process statewide.
The crowd gathered in Coursey Annex cheered as O’Loughlin eruditely responded to every question the justices lobbed at him without hesitation. Russell, by comparison, was stymied more than once by posited questions and at one point was forced to ask for their patience as he secured a legal tome and scrambled to locate the answer.
While the Supreme Court decision is not expected for months on the matter, Hinsdale County Commissioners were buoyed by the tenor of the justices’ questioning on the complex matter.
Only Commissioners Thompson and Dozier were present for the BOCC meeting. Commissioner Whinnery was not present at the meeting. Prior to the Supreme Court presentation, commissioners voted to continue their membership in Lake City/Hinsdale County Chamber of Commerce. Hinsdale County Historical Society made a 2019 request for an increased donation of $1,500. Commissioners rejected the request, maintaining their usual donation of $500, justifying the expenditure because the historical society cooperatively stores county documents and furniture for the county.
A brief discussion of 2019 budget updates commenced with Hinsdale County Accountant Lynn McNitt.
During the brief dive into the numbers, McNitt reviewed previous areas of concern and updated departmental numbers which were coming into alignment. It was noted that the 3 percent Cost of Living adjustment for county employees had been restored because savings had been found in other areas.
McNitt also stated that she had received news from the State that in the future, all deliveries made to Lake City on purchases would result in sales taxes being remitted to Hinsdale County. She mentioned examples of such household items as carpeting, lumber, appliances or furniture delivered from any retail establishment would be eligible for sales tax reimbursement back to Hinsdale County coffers.
After the meeting, commissioners went into executive session to interview and discuss candidates being considered for the Emergency Services Director position being vacated as Jerry Gray retires at year’s end.