Pause for a moment, and try to figure which job in Pagosa Country provokes the most frequent and loudest negative reactions from the public. Who, in other words, gets yelled at the most?
Then, if you will, imagine yourself in that job.
The obvious answers (aside from newspaper editor) are probably the county commissioners and law enforcement officers. Perhaps developers who assume public meetings will produce wide acclaim and support for their projects.
The county commissioners are not candidates. Not long ago, that august body was the object of loud and unceasing negative feedback, and rightfully so, with the county teetering on the edge of insolvency. But, that situation has changed; there is a new commission working quietly and competently to push the ship off the fiscal sandbar.
Law enforcement officers? Comes with the territory. We also toss judges into the mix. They receive more than a fair share of negative reactions from members of the public.
But, we suggest there is another government official who is often the target of ongoing public abuse and who, given the current economic climate, will likely experience amplified angst.
That official is Keren Prior, the Archuleta County Assessor.
As if her task does not put her in the bulls eye often enough, recent developments will probably make assaults on Prior and her staff fiercer in the near future.
First, of course, is the current economic situation — one in which many people are under increasing financial pressure, finding themselves with less money with which to deal with their needs (add in those who have the same funds as ever available, but who are wracked by fear and reluctant to part with their cash).
Second, is the impending release by Prior’s office of Notices of Valuation — the assessments of property value that determine the amount of property tax to be paid by the owners.
While there has been a month’s delay in the creation and mailing of these notices, due to a major software upgrade at the county, they will be sent out.
And the general reaction is liable to be unfavorable. The reason: the notices will not show the decline in values (and, therefore, taxes) that many people are hoping for.
Prior made clear in an interview in last week’s SUN that many valuations might actually reflect an increase in property taxes paid by some owners. She stated she believes the valuation period under review could show as much as a 15-percent increase in values across the county.
Here’s the problem: This assessment period is not the one likely to bring with it the desired tax relief. Most property owners will have to wait two years for the break, until the next assessment. If prices decline significantly — a fact not yet established.
Prior’s office also continues to deal with the reclassification of many properties, removing the coveted agricultural status from those deemed undeserving of the lesser tax.
Taxpayers must remember one other thing before they burst into the assessor’s office to berate staff members or the boss: the office operates via state-set formulae. Once comparable values are established, the formula is applied. The assessor and her staff are not the right objects of rage.
There is an appeal process available, which, like the notices, has been set back a month. That process allows someone who does not agree with an assessment an opportunity to make a case at a hearing. Given lack of satisfaction, a protest can be made to the County Board of Equalization (the commissioners). Given no satisfaction at that level, a protest can be taken to the state level.
At no point does rage and uncivil behavior shape the outcome, one way or the other. Don’t waste the energy. Karl Isberg