A local Cripple Creek non-gaming business owner and high profile member of the RE-1 School Board is accusing the county assessor of trying to drive small retail shops out of business, with tax pursuits that heavily favor gambling establishments.
If the situation isn’t adjusted, the business owner fears the district will see a re-run of the early 1990s, which resulted in the near death of the Cripple Creek retail base. Plus, some school officials are wondering if they are receiving their fair share of money.
“I am not asking for any special favors,” blasted Cripple Creek business owner Tim Braun, regarding the assessment of his gift shop, Hitchin’ Post, located next to city hall at 333 Bennett Avenue. “I am asking for fair and equitable treatment. I don’t understand why the small business’ taxes were increased 60 to 70 pcercent when casinos’ (taxes) were reduced. There is nothing that makes sense here whatsoever.”
Last week, Braun, who operates and owns the shop with his wife Anita, appeared before Bruce Cummings, the referee appointed by the county’s Board of Equalization during a property petition appeal This was one of nine appeals heard by Cummings last week, as part of the Board of Equalization process.
Moreover, Braun argued that retail shops are paying a dramatic increase in taxes on a square footage basis compared to casinos. According to a chart compiled by Braun, small shops are getting taxed at a rate as high as $2.43 a square foot, while casinos are seeing their taxes plunge to rates of .33 and .31 cents per square foot. As a result, he said their taxes are increasing by a hefty margin, while casinos are seeing their taxes decline. Plus, he cited the fact that many of these retail structures are quite old and not in the best condition.
On a historical basis, Braun stated that many local retail shops in Cripple Creek were forced out of business due to the fact they got hit with explosive casino-related assessment rates, shortly after the arrival of gaming in the 1990s. Now, he says they wouldn’t mind seeing these rates again. “We are praying for casino rates,” said Braun.
His stand got the attention of RE-1 District Superintendent Les Lindauer, who attended last week’s appeal hearing. “There is no effective formula here. I might as well roll the dice with our budget,” said the superintendent, following last week’s hearing
According to the superintendent, the RE-1 district is getting clobbered with much lower revenue, capped by a reduced level of mine production by the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company and other financial factors. He said the values for the district took a much bigger plunge than earlier projections by county officials.
But with reports of an uptick in gambling activity, he said local officials are scratching their heads over the continued inequity. Lindauer said school district officials may have to consider a mill levy override to make up the difference. They have scheduled a meeting on this issue on Aug. 9.
Cripple Creek officials, meanwhile, say they are not impacted by the revenue situation, since a very small portion of their budget is determined by property taxes.
Not a valid comparison
However, Assessor Betty Clark-Wine contends that comparisons can’t be made between Cripple Creek retail shops and casinos, and firmly stands behind her assessment of the Hitchin’ Post gift shop and other small retail stores in the district. The Hitchin’ Post property was valued at $202,242.
Clark-Wine said this value was firmly supported by sales in the area during the most recent assessment period. In fact, she said the Brauns helped determine this rate due to the fact they bought their property for $195,000.
“They helped determine the market,” said Clark-Wine, who cited this as one of the sales used by her office to tabulate the recent values of non-gaming stores in Cripple Creek.
According to Clark-Wine, casinos are valued differently through a special consultant, hired by the county. “They are valued with other casinos,” said Clark-Wine, in explaining the system used by their consultant. “You can’t compare retail stores with casinos. There are a lot of other factors involved.”
What is missing in Braun’s equation and his chart analysis, according to Clark-Wine, are the specific uses of the various properties. Plus, she said many misunderstand that the current assessed rates are based on a property’s worth as of June 30, 2014, and don’t represent today’s values.
According to Clark-Wine, the values of casinos took a downward spiral due to the financial impacts associated with the Waldo Canyon fires and floods. She believes this contributed to their lower tax rates. During the next assessment period next year, the assessor expects this scenario to change.
Since the beginning of 2016, Cripple Creek officials have boasted of good revenue numbers for local casinos, saying the town may be on track for a record-breaking year regarding their coin-in activity.
Despite his staunch arguments, the assessor said that Brauns are the only non-gaming business owners in Cripple Creek that protested their values. She admits hearing inquiries by other business owners, but stated that they never filed any protests. As a whole, Clark-Wine said the county has experienced a decline in overall protests.
Altogether, Clark-Wine reported 183 protests, which is down from previous years. She said the vast majority of these were resolved prior to the appeal stage.
The county commissioners, acting as the Board of Equalization, will review the actions recommended by Cummings in early August. The Board of Equalization will review his findings as a whole, and may make changes.
If a protester is still unhappy, property owners can take their case before the District Court or the state Board of Assessment.
The Hitchin’ Post owners say they expect their case to go before the court.