Property owners can expect NOVs soon

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By Jennifer Garcia

If you haven’t already received one, property owners in Los Alamos County can expect a letter from the county assessor’s office in their mailboxes soon.

On or before Wednesday, each property owner will receive a notice of value for his or her property. The county assessor is an elected official responsible for valuing property in the county as directed by state laws known as the New Mexico Property Tax Code.

The assessor doesn’t set the tax rates. Instead, the assessor’s primary responsibility is to establish a property’s market value. The property that is valued includes both real and personal property.

Real property is generally identified as land and all of the things attached to that land. Residential land and improvement and all types of commercial land and improvements would be an example of real property.

Personal property is generally identified as all other property. Business personal property such as fixtures, equipment and furniture, mobile homes and livestock are some examples of personal property.

According to the county assessor’s website, constant searching for information is required so that an accurate analysis of the market is done to estimate the fair market value of properties.

The assessor’s office also prepares and certifies the assessment roll and individual property assessments in accordance with state laws.

County Assessor JoAnn Johnson, who took office in January 2007, is serving her first term. She and her staff will mail out approximately 9,000 letters this year.

“There are about 9,000 pieces or property; parcels, residential and commercial,” Johnson said. She explained that churches and government-owned property are tax-exempt.

Johnson said that there’s a misconception about who sets the property tax. “People think we set the property taxes. We do not. We evaluate properties,” she said. Johnson explained that the notices of value go out to let residents know how much their property has been evaluated at.

“Later, after our county council and people at the state-level get a part of the money, they look at their budgets and determine what the rate of taxes will be.”

She also wanted to make clear that the NOV letters are not property tax bills. Those actually go out in November.

Johnson said that once the property owner receives their NOV they should look at the evaluation and if they don’t agree with what their property has been evaluated at, they should go into the assessor’s office and dispute it.

“On an informal basis, they have about 30 days (to dispute the evaluation). Then (after 30 days) it becomes more of a formal protest,” she said. “When people come in, we can usually work things out with them. No one should be reluctant to come in.”

There are some tax breaks for individuals meeting the required criteria under the Property Tax Code. Veterans get $4,000 off of the net taxable value of their homes, while 100 percent disabled veterans are completely exempt from paying property taxes.

Heads of households also get a tax break in the form of $2,000 off the net taxable values of their homes. Low-income property owners and those over age 65 are eligible for a valuation limitation, which could freeze our property valuation. In addition, churches and educational or charitable organizations are also eligible for exemptions.

Johnson also said that the state Lightning Tax has caused a lot of grief for her office.

In 2001, the state legislature passed a bill that stated if your house had not been resold, the most it could go up in value was 3 percent a year. Then, when the house was sold, it would go up to market value.

“As years went by, you’d find two houses side-by-side that were identical, but one was carrying market value, while one was increasing 3 percent per year,” she explained. “The legislature keeps looking at it, but they haven’t found a workable way to correct this inequity,” she continued. When it was put in place, it was meant to protect older homes, particularly in Santa Fe, who were subject to increasing property taxes because of all the high-priced homes that were being sold in that county. That is the reason the tax was capped at 3 percent, Johnson said.

“This year, you will see a lot of property values go down because the market has gone down. These people that have only been getting 3 percent per year will see it going up,” she said.

Those who wish to dispute their property valuations should do so as soon as they receive the NOV. On June 15, the county assessor’s office will certify the total net taxable values in the county to the Property Tax Division. After this date, a court order is usually required to change valuations.

If you have questions about exemptions or NOVs call the county assessor’s office at 662-8030. They are located at 2451 Central Ave., Suite C and are open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can also visit them on the Web at www.losalamosnm.us/assessor.