Thursday, March 31, 2011

McKinley backs landowners

Landowners, who have donated portions of their property through easements for conservation, in exchange for tax credits, appealed to lawmakers today on the House Finance Committee to support a measure affording them due process when the credits are denied.

House Bill 1208 by Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, would require the state to honor current conservation easement tax credits extended to property owners or to those who purchase the easement credits—unless an appraiser has been convicted of fraud. The Department of Revenue would bear the burden of proof to show that the appraisal is fraudulent within a prescribed time frame. The committee postponed voting on the measure until next week, pending possible amendments.

McKinley said the bill clarifies controversies arising from agreements that were made in good faith by property owners but that the state is now questioning.

“If the appraiser has done his or her job, the tax credits will be honored,” said McKinley.

Future agreements would be subject to more stringent oversight through revisions in laws made in 2007. The Department of Revenue, fortified with the change in the law, began looking at the easements with an eye toward weeding out inflated appraisals. Property owners and tax credit buyers began receiving notices that the credits would not be granted due to questions over the validity of the easement.

McKinley says the department has been demanding interest, fees and penalties on easements that they now say were overvalued. Some landowners receiving the notices have been waiting years, in some cases, for the department, who say they are overwhelmed and lack resources to resolve the disputes.

Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, expressed dismay at the predicament the landowners find themselves in.

“This seems absurd that these cases are dragging on and on while interest is accruing,” said Acree.

Department of Revenue spokesman Mark Couch said the department is doing what it is obligated to do on behalf of taxpayers. Couch said that $466 million has been granted to filers since 2001 when the conservation-easement program began and that 16,000 tax returns have been honored.

“We don’t believe we’re the bad guys,” said Couch. “Our job is to protect the taxpayers, and we have the responsibility to make sure that the credits that are claimed are due to the filer.”

Property owner Jim Bucher of Pueblo, who donated land to Pueblo County in the form of easements and was denied the tax credits, said the denials he and others have experienced have come as a blow.

“The state is hurting a lot of salt-of-the-earth, real people,” said Bucher. “Many of these landowners might as well pack up and go right now.”

McKinley says the measure is simply the right thing to do.

“If they make the deal, they should honor the deal they made,” said McKinley. “A deal’s a deal.”

Via - Colorado News Agency

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