Task force narrows its focus to land beneath the homes

Grand Junction resident William Martin hasn’t been one of those people who was abusing an agricultural property tax classification for land he owns in Montrose County.

Still, Martin had to go before the county’s Board of Equalization to get the designation after being turned down by the assessor’s office, which meant the difference between paying $6.36 a year in taxes for his 80 acres instead of $1,525.

“They said it wasn’t agricultural even though I have a grazing lease on it,” Martin said. “That’s when I went and talked to somebody besides the property tax guys. They turned me down at first because they needed the money, and they thought they could just deny it.”

Martin said the county assessor’s office turned him down after taking aerial photos of the property and found a camper on the land located along the San Miguel River, but no livestock. They believed someone was living there, but Martin said they were just squatters.

Martin’s initial problem with getting the designation got fixed, but it points to a bigger issue assessors are having statewide in determining who should get an agricultural tax exemption, said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

His group and the Colorado Farm Bureau have been working with a little-known legislative task force that wants to crack down on abuse of agricultural property tax laws. Both support the task force’s recommendations, but they are cautious about what the Legislature might try to do to fix the problem.

“Those cases where people are not following the prescriptive allowance of the law and getting away with it, we need to correct,” Fankhauser said. “But to find tremendous loopholes in the law without really harming true agriculture, that’s why the task force narrowed its focus.”

That narrowing led the task force to concentrate on the law that has allowed property owners to not only get the tax break for their entire lots, but also for the land beneath their homes, even if the landowner is neither a rancher nor a farmer.

Gunnison County Commissioner Hap Channell, a task force member who is trying to get other counties to support its recommendations, shares concerns that ranchers and farmers have about the Legislature going too far.

Still, he said something needs to be done, and he was surprised to learn the farming and ranching groups thought so, too.

“That’s why we were doing an ongoing reality check in the task force about what we thought we could get from the Legislature,” Channell said. “This issue has reared its head over the last couple of decades, so hopefully this time we have the right mix from the recommendation and the political will at the state level to do something.”


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