County’s Board of Equalization Denies Lake Fork Club’s Challenge to Valuation

Hinsdale County Board of Equalization (BOE) entertained a focused petition hearing on Wednesday morning, August 8. Hinsdale Commissioners Thompson, Dozier and Whinnery serve as the BOE for county tax disputes.
Present with the BOE at the Wednesday meeting were Hinsdale Tax Assessor Luke de la Parra, and participating in a conference call were Mike Russell, Attorney for the Lake Fork petitioners, property appraiser Arnie Butler and Hinsdale County Attorney Michael O’Loughlin.
It was noted by attorney Russell that all 29 individual ranch property owners at Lake Fork Hunting Club north of Lake City have now signed on to the original petition protesting the valuation of the property.
Russell asserted that each ranch is owned “as tenants in common” with equal and undivided voting rights. “The only relevant issue is that the evaluation methodology [used by Hinsdale County] is incorrect and does not take into account club membership,” said Russell. He noted, “The property should be considered as a whole parcel – a large property with deed restrictions.”
Property appraiser Butler offered his thoughts on comparable large acre parcels in the area and stated an assessed value of the Lake Fork Hunting Club based on this comparative outlook as $1.960-million with each of the 29 individual ranches dividing that sum equally in $67,586.21 assessments.
Russell stated that while the controversy is slated to come before the Colorado Supreme Court. “They only took up the part of who should be the taxpayer. It is a narrow issue of who the property taxpayer should be: the club or the personal property owners.”
He continued, “The amount of tax paid — the assessment — is not under review. Therefore, the valuation [by Arnie Butler] should stand.
The issue began several years ago as Hinsdale County lost in the initial court case, whereupon the county attorney filed an appeal on the issue to the higher court, stating the appeal has broad, state-wide implications in terms of the manner in which county assessors value property for tax purposes.
The case is expected to come before the Colorado Supreme Court sometime in late 2019.
County Attorney Michael O’Loughlin disagreed with Russell, stating, “The Colorado Supreme Court is deciding on differences regarding personal and real property.” He did agree that the pending Supreme Court hearing could not and should not delay an immediate BOE ruling on the valuation.
Assessor de la Parra rebutted, “Mr. Butler is asking me to value property in two different ways, which I cannot do. If their clients decided to sign their deeds back to the club, then I’ll be happy to evaluate it as a whole.”
Russell noted that should the BOE “give us a denial, then do so — and we will condense this issue with all the others going forward.”
Commissioner Susan Thompson asserted there were no further legal questions. “I believe our assessor’s valuations are correct because these people hold the deeds to their own property. The valuations set up by the Hinsdale County Assessor are correct.”
Commission Whinnery followed with a “motion to deny relief to the Lake Fork Hunting and Fishing Club on their tax assessment.” Cindy Dozier seconded, noting “What we are doing is accepting the Hinsdale County tax assessor’s valuation of these properties.
Noting that no evidence had been offered to support the assertion, Whinnery objected to Arnie Butler’s valuation as a ‘huge ranch.’ Whinnery later stated, “If he had come with some assessment for each property I would have considered it. You can’t assess it as a whole, with personal ownership.
Following the unanimous vote, Hinsdale County Clerk Roberts was directed by O’Loughlin to send denial letters to Mr. Russell and the petitioners “with their options therein.”