Valuation in county tops $1 billion

RBC I While the economy may be down, the county’s assessed value is up.
In fact, it reached a record high.
“I believe this is the first time it’s ever been over a billion,” said Renae Neilson, Rio Blanco County assessor.
Prior to re-certification Dec. 10, Neilson reported the county’s assessed value at $1,161,221,940. That’s compared to an assessed value of $821,281,380 for 2008.
“The biggest reason for the spike is oil and gas,” Neilson said. “Oil and gas has always contributed the biggest piece of the pie. Meeker 1 (Enterprise’s gas plant) is on line. This, along with the pipelines and ColoWyo now mining coal in our county have added to the increase.”
The assessed value has a big impact on the county’s budget, which is in the process of being finalized for 2010.
“Revenue from assessed values represents one-quarter of the county’s budget,” Neilson said.
Given the lag time in the assessment process, Neilson expects the county’s value to continue to remain high for next year.
“Willow Creek (the new Williams gas plant) and (Enterprise’s) Meeker 2 and XTO (Energy) plants are not on (the books) yet,” Neilson said. “They will come on board this year. Our assessment date is Jan. 1. So, if the plant isn’t in operation on the turnkey date, then we don’t get to (count it) until the next year. We will send the companies a notice of valuation in June of next year. The tax notice will go out in 2011 for the value that’s set in 2010.
“Right now, things are really good,” Neilson said. “But, if oil and gas ever went away … I don’t know what would happen to this county. The majority of our wells are on federal land, so if the federal government ever shut down production on federal land, we’d be in trouble in this county.”
Neilson said oil and gas production, along with natural resources, represents 80 percent of the county’s value.
Other taxing entities receive “their part” of the county’s value, meaning there were across-the-board increases in 2009, including both school districts. The value for the Meeker School District was $615,877,610, while Rangely’s School District was $545,082,430.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time ever the Meeker schools have been higher than the Rangely schools,” Neilson said. “The Rangely (oil) field is good, but they didn’t have any big new construction like Meeker did. But they’ll have some pipeline coming through for next year.
“The schools, just like everyone else, the majority of their values is coming from the assessed value of oil and gas,” Neilson added.
However, there’s a catch.
“They really won’t receive one penny more than they have in the past,” the county assessor said. “Colorado’s School Finance Act allows a specific amount of money per student to each school.”
Both towns in the county also saw increased values. Meeker’s valuation was $26,021,900, and Rangely’s was $19,515,860.
“This year, the residential property increased 40 percent, and that was due to the market … we used all of the sales of ‘07 and the first six months of ‘08,” Neilson said. “It (residential property is assessed) every odd-numbered year, so 2011 will be the next reappraisal year. Sales from 2009 and the first six months of 2010 will be used for the 2011 reappraisal. We’re seeing fewer sales, which tells me the market is going to come down. We’re not seeing huge changes in our value, but we still have all of this year and half of next year.
“But, if even if the residential values go kaput, if oil and gas can maintain production and price, the total valuation may not drop that much,” Neilson added.
Still, predicting the future of oil and gas — and what that means to the county’s assessed value — is a tricky business.
“I think next year will be pretty good,” Neilson said. “We’ve got more gas plants coming­ on; we have one more pipeline coming on that will add to the valuation. If oil and gas maintains … that’s the big question. I wish I had that crystal ball.”