Higher tax bills coming to a mailbox near you

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Property owners will see a 36.3 percent increase in property tax bills

By Carol A. Clark

Increased property tax bills will be mailed out Monday to local residents and Los Alamos County Assessor JoAnn Johnson and Chief Deputy Assessor Joaquin Valdez sat down to discuss the situation during a meeting in their office Tuesday.

“Property owners will see an increase on their 2009 tax bills compared to their 2008 tax bills. The property taxes are based on the 2009 assessed value, which are based on 2008 market levels and notices of those values were mailed out to residents back in April,” Valdez said.

The residential tax rate increase totals 6.141 mills or 36.3 percent and the non-residential tax rate increase totals 6.668 mills or 30.7 percent, he said.

“The increase is due in part to the successful voter-imposed school bond election of the Los Alamos Public School’s building improvement G.O. bond last January,” Valdez said. “Of the total increase on the residential tax rate and on the non-residential tax rate, approximately 5.5 mills is a result of the LAPS G.O. bond.”

The remainder of the property tax increase, he said, is due to the decrease in the county’s net taxable value, caused by the decrease in property assessment to reflect the 2008 real estate market slump.

Individual property tax bills will not increase by the same percentage because individual property values change year to year.

Valdez explained that while there are other factors that affect rates, typically, when values go down, rates go up and when rates go up, values go down.

“The value and rates actually have an inverse affect,” he said.  

The county is limited by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (DFA), using the yield control formula, as to how much taxes can legally be raised.

The DFA sets the tax rate based on each locally approved budget.

Johnson is the elected official responsible for valuing all real and personal property for taxing authorities within the county. Taxing authorities include organizations such as school districts, county hospitals, municipalities, conservancy districts and flood control authorities.

The Assessor’s Office also prepares and certifies the assessment roll and individual property assessments in accordance with New Mexico State laws.

“The DFA sets the tax rate and our County Council certifies that rate. The rates finance ongoing operations of government and debt rates to finance long-term capital improvements,” she said. “It’s important to remember that when we ask for more county services and we approve bonds – that must be paid for and property taxes and gross receipts taxes are the source of revenue for our county.”

Johnson clarified the fact that the tax bills being mailed out Monday are not originating from her office.

“The county’s finance department conducts the billing and collects the money. Another misconception for some residents is that the Assessor’s Office sets property taxes,” she said. “We do not; we evaluate properties. We are the custodian of all parcel information in Los Alamos County in which there are more than 8,000 residential and commercial parcels.”

Some properties are tax exempt, she said, such as churches and government-owned properties. The only agricultural and livestock in the county is at the stables, she said, adding that the stables as well as the hangars at the Los Alamos Airport are taxed.

The Assessor’s Office shares that parcel information with various county departments such as emergency management, police and planning.