Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mobile home taxes rise as values fall

Climbing assessments hit less-affluent home owners
By Ryan Morgan
Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Property tax bills for Boulder County's mobile home owners have been going up, but some officials wonder if it makes sense to tax some of the community's lowest-income residents at all.

Boulder County Treasurer Bob Hullinghorst said the results of a recent tax lien sale say it all.

The county offered to sell 100 liens on mobile homes whose buyers hadn't paid their tax bills. Buyers are allowed to take possession of the mobile homes if the lien isn't paid within a year.

But Hullinghorst said he found only 19 buyers for those liens, most of which were well under $100.

"That's mostly because they believe that the other 81 weren't even worth it," he said. "It wouldn't even be worth taking title to the trailer, because it's such a piece of junk."

Hullinghorst said it doesn't make sense that mobile home owners' assessments are on the rise when their properties obviously aren't rising in value. And that's especially true considering people who live in mobile homes aren't the county's most affluent residents, he said.

Fifty-five percent of the 3,700 mobile home owners in Boulder County saw their assessments rise in 2005. For those homeowners, the average hike in their tax bill was 60 percent, and dozens saw their bills double or even triple.

The remaining 45 percent saw their assessments stay the same or decline. The assessments that declined went down by an average of 23 percent.

Boulder County Assessor Cindy Domenico said the county re-evaluates property every two years. In 2004, her office carefully examined market values for mobile homes in specific locations in the county, she said.

"Our prior values, which we actually have been carrying for a while, were out of sync with the market," Domenico said. "What we did was correct those values on a countywide basis to more accurately reflect what the market was telling us."

Domenico said her office sent mailings to residents to warn them their values might be changing, and sent those materials out in both English and Spanish.

She said they had complaints from 150 residents. With the exception of five cases, she said, "those were reviewed and adjusted to their satisfaction." The remaining cases went to the county's Board of Adjustment.

"We're human and we do make mistakes. We try to do our best to remedy that when we discover it," she said. "There are sometimes issues with properties we can't agree on."

Adams County Treasurer John Lefebvre said counties spend more time and money than it's worth to try to collect tax bills for mobile home owners, some of which are $20 a year and less.

"It's an interesting and delicate situation. These folks, because they are very poor, can ill afford even a small tax," he said. "There are a number of them that are below fifty bucks. The sheriff will go slap the lien up on the mobile home, but he'll charge us $35 to go do that. It's another $20 to advertise it, and we're at $55 bucks right there. It's the county who's out of pocket."

He's trying to find a sponsor for state legislation that would change the way mobile homes are assessed. Instead of treating them like real estate, the new policy would treat them like cars that depreciate in value. Once mobile homes were worth less than $2,500, they wouldn't be taxed.

He said it doesn't make sense to spend valuable time and money to extract such small sums from people who are least able to pay it.

"You get these people who are fairly poor, a lot of them are on fixed incomes, and this was going to be their opportunity to have a fairly low-cost way to live, and we're coming in and making somewhat arbitrary decisions about what those mobile homes are worth," he said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Ryan Morgan at (303) 473-1333 or

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