Momentum seems to be building for a “performance audit” of the county board of successors. The Commerce and Jackson County school systems have officially requested that the commissioners ask the Department of Revenue to step in. The Commerce City Council is also on board.
If that happens, the Department of Revenue will investigate to make sure the assessment process follows protocol. If it finds shortcomings, DOR can audit the digest itself.
But what if it doesn’t find any shortcomings? If the tax appraisals appear to be in line?
When property is reappraised and the notices are sent out, taxpayers have the right to go before the county Board of Equalization to present evidence that the appraisals (and therefore the 40-percent assessments) are too high. The Jackson County Board of Equalization, members of which are appointed by the grand jury, has the reputation of reducing virtually every appraisal appealed to it to placate angry taxpayers. That makes folks happy, but at what cost?
The Board of Assessors and the Board of Equalization can’t both be right. If an audit should find the assessors’ house in order, the investigation should shift to the board of equalization, because if property is being fairly appraised, it stands to reason that most appeals should be denied.
Every taxpayer would like to pay less in property taxes, but more importantly, every taxpayer should be treated fairly, whether corporate or residential. That begins and ends with property being appraised at fair market value, but it could also be time to more closely examine exemptions to be sure they’re properly used.
The interest in the audit comes from school boards who look at unexpectedly declining tax digests, but also from the city of Commerce, where officials claim to see great discrepancies in residential appraisals. That said, the amount of tax money lost (or to be gained) should not be the issue. The system must be audited to make sure that the tax burden — whatever level it may be — is spread appropriately over the county’s taxpayers as required by law. Right now the system is suspect. The only way to restore the public trust is with an audit.