Diana Carroll

When Moab-area homeowners open their county property tax bills later this fall, most of them can expect to find a nice surprise inside.

The Grand County Council unanimously adopted a resolution last week that sets the county’s certified tax rate for 2015 at a lower number, and as a result, property taxes will go down for a majority of property owners.

However, in cases where the Grand County Assessor’s Office has reappraised property values at a higher number, county taxpayers will see their property tax bills rise slightly, according to Grand County Clerk/ Auditor Diana Carroll.

“If your property values go up, you’ll see a little bit more,” she told the Moab Sun News.

This year’s certified tax rate of 0.002832 is down by just under 3 percent from 2014, thanks to new calculations which show that the total property values in Grand County rose from $1.48 billion to $1.57 billion.

“The rate decreases when the value increases,” Carroll said. “The overall rate did decrease – the county’s portion, anyway.”

Other local government entities, including the Grand County School District, are in the process of reviewing their own certified tax rates for the year. But Carroll noted that the county has no authority over any decisions that those unrelated boards make.

The county’s property tax notices are scheduled to go out in mid-October, and they will be due on Nov. 30.

In the meantime, property owners whose properties were recently reappraised should be receiving assessment notices from the Grand County Assessor’s Office within the next week or two. According to Carroll, each notice will include instructions that tell people how to appeal the revised market values of their properties.

Appeals to the county’s board of equalization will be accepted until Tuesday, Sept. 15; anyone who has questions about reappraisals or the appeals process can call the assessor’s office at 435-259-1329.

Grand County Treasurer Chris Kauffman’s office is also handling a number of different tax exemptions and abatements on the county’s behalf, and both he and Carroll encourage qualifying residents to contact him for more information about their options.

One program called the “Circuit Breaker” is designed to help older property owners obtain state-reimbursed abatements and tax credits.

“I don’t know how many people in Grand County qualify, but we do have quite a few people who take advantage of it,” he said.

Kauffman said the program protects qualifying taxpayers from a “property tax overload,” hence its strange name.

In order to be eligible for the program, property owners must be at least 66 years old this calendar year, and their annual household incomes must be under $31,702. Only residents of owner-occupied homes and low-income renters can qualify for the program, provided that they’ve lived in Utah for at least 10 months beforehand.

The amount of each abatement may vary on a sliding scale, based on an applicant’s income level, Kauffman said.

Carroll said that Kauffman wants to ensure that eligible taxpayers are aware of their options for help through Circuit Breaker.

“It’s a great program for that group of people,” she said.

According to Kauffman, the abatements and tax credits come at no cost to the county’s taxpayers.

“The state reimburses the county for that expense, so it doesn’t add to the tax burden for other people in the county,” he said.

Tax exemptions are also available for disabled military veterans and blind people, and the county offers an additional 20 percent reduction on the market value of a qualifying person’s address. For more information, residents can contact Kauffman’s office at 435-259-1338.

Other government entities reviewing certified tax rates

The Grand County School District is proposing to increase its property tax revenue.

According to school district administrator Robert Farnsworth, the increase is needed to cover a 7% rise in budgeted revenues for the up coming year, and to offset the effects of State House Bill 119 that requires a certain amount of district funds be set aside for charter schools in the state.

Other expenses include building maintenance and renovation.

“The middle school needs repairs,” Farnsworth said.

The school district will be holding a truth and taxation hearing at the district office on August 5, at 6:00 p.m. Farnsworth urges anyone with questions to attend and also to bring their tax statements with them.

“These can be pretty complicated documents to see through,” he said.

Castle Valley Town Clerk Ali Fuller said her town’s council was scheduled to review its own resolution to adopt a slightly lower certified tax rate on Wednesday, July 15.

According to Fuller, the town’s proposed rate would drop from the 2014 rate of 0.002098 to 0.002090.

“The rate that we’re adopting is very close to what we adopted last year,” she said.

In one welcome change for Castle Valley property owners, the town is not seeking its own property tax increase in 2015 – although the state could change that rate slightly, she said, based on property values and other factors.

Last year, the town council voted to increase those property tax rates by 85 percent – mainly to fund road and infrastructure improvements, as well as a study of the valley’s water resources.

In the future, however, Fuller said the town will review the possibility of adopting “very small” increases every four years or so, instead of enacting one big tax hike at once.

The town would likely adopt incremental increases that match the inflation rate, she said, although that idea has not been set in stone.

Apart from property taxes, Fuller noted that the town is limited in the kinds of revenues it can raise.

Although there are a small number of home-based businesses in Castle Valley, Fuller said that industry is not necessarily thriving, so the town doesn’t collect much in the way of sales tax revenue.

“We shoot ourselves in the foot, in essence, by not allowing any commercial businesses out here,” she said. “For us, unfortunately, the weight of the tax increases falls on the property owners … In general, the City of Moab is collecting quite a bit of income off of sales taxes in their municipality, which just doesn’t exist out here.”

A closer look at new growth in Grand County

Altogether, the county reported more than $67.43 million in new growth this year, based on a five-year average collection rate of 93.36 percent.

Intrepid Potash remains far and away the county’s top taxpayer, with a taxable value of more than $135.2 million – up from $122.6 million last year. In comparison, the top hospitality-related company – the Wang Organization Ltd. – has a current taxable value of $19.96 million.

Other companies in the mineral and energy production fields took the next six slots after Intrepid Potash, as “centrally assessed” property values climbed 7.55 percent from last year’s numbers, from more than $446.5 million, to $480.2 million.

“The top ones are still in the minerals: Oil and gas and potash,” Carroll said.

One of those producers, however, experienced a sharp drop between 2014 and 2015.

While Fidelity Exploration and Production is listed as the county’s fourth biggest taxpayer, the Big Flat oil and gas developer saw its taxable value plummet from more than $79.8 million last year to just under $43.5 million in 2015, according to a report from the assessor’s office.

Most homeowners will see decrease in property tax bills