The Santa Fe County Assessor’s Office is reviewing work recently submitted by an out-of-state contractor who was paid $1.86 million to help gather data that could impact the property tax bills of thousands of residents next year, officials say.
The county awarded Dallas, Texas-based Tyler Technologies, Inc. the contract in February 2012. It advertised the bid for the contract and received interest from four firms, Purchasing Director Vincent Ojinaga told county commissioners in February 2012. But he said Tyler was the only company that submitted a proposal for the bid.
For a year afterward, local temporary workers, Tyler officials and county employees fanned out across Santa Fe County to collect data on 35,176 residential properties, officials tell SFR.
The temps collected photographs, made sketches, compiled other data on homes and entered that data into the assessor’s computer system, officials say. County residents, as a result of the updates, could see tax bills increase due to more accurate records of improvements made on their properties.
The effort was meant to hasten slow valuation work as a result of the office being understaffed, County Assessor Domingo Martinez tells SFR.
When a property changes ownership, the buyer is required by state law to file a sales affidavit of the newly acquired property with the Assessor’s Office, which is then supposed to update the value it assigns to the property.
The Assessor’s office is charged with updating all property data every five years, but some properties aren’t on the books at all.
From 2007 to 2012, the time of Martinez’ tenure as the county assessor, the county found 1,397 properties that weren’t on the tax rolls, he says, adding that his office receives roughly 3,000 protests annually by residents disputing the county’s valuations.
The system will be updated by the end of the year, Martinez says, and in April 2014, homeowners will receive a notice of the value of their property via mail.
That’s nothing out of the ordinary. Homeowners receive a notice of valuation every year. They have 30 days after receiving the notice to protest any changes.
State law prevents the valuation from increasing more than 3 percent each year, unless significant improvements are made to the property. The county treasurer then uses the valuation to put together a tax bill for each property owner. Dominguez, whose term is up in 2014, defends spending the nearly $2 million it took to hire an out-of-state firm to help with conducting assessments. The Board of County Commissioners approved the contract by a 3-2 vote.
“If we don’t have the resources to do them,” he says, “we have to look elsewhere to get that done.”
He calls the quality of Tyler’s work “very, very good.”
Maurice Gogarty, southwest regional manager for Tyler Technologies, says the local temps hired by his firm didn’t conduct formal valuations—just collected data. County employees are in the process of inspecting the contractor’s work to check for consistency. Gogarty admits there are likely at least a few bugs.
“We estimated at one point there might be 10 errors of some magnitude to every 1,000 properties,” he says. “Most of [the errors] were pretty minor in nature.”
Those errors might include someone not being home at the time of the visit from Tyler representatives, Gogarty says, in which case, data collectors were required to leave the property.
The county didn’t hire a contractor to update records on commercial property, but Martinez told county officials that hiring a contractor for the residential properties would free his staff to spend more time on the business end.
The county calculates its property tax rate each year by adding its budgets to what it owes for debt service, divided by the total net taxable value of all the properties in its jurisdiction.
If a property isn’t on the tax rolls, those who are paying taxes will have to make up for it, which is why any data collection effort impacts every taxpayer.
That includes the county assessor. A residential property Martinez owns at 913 Don Juan St. is valued at $198,600. The taxable value, one-third the total value, is $64,200. The tax bill from the treasurer will multiply that by the tax rate, and voilà, revenue for the government.