ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Build an addition, put in a pool or add a porch: any one of those home improvements is designed to make a property not only more comfortable, but more valuable.
With that added value comes added property tax revenue for counties all across New Mexico.
But in Bernalillo County - where the owner of a multimillion dollar mansion has paid miniscule tax bills and some wealthy land owners landed questionable agricultural exemptions - KRQE News 13 has learned some elected officials and county employees are catching a break on their tax bills.
In some cases, projects completed nearly two decades ago have yet to be reflected in property values. The impact isn't hard to gauge.
"The county is missing out on money," said New Mexico Tax and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, whose agency watchdogs property tax collection across the state.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson's property was flagged after a review showed the addition of a breakfast nook as well as a sizable covered patio. Neither improvement was on the tax rolls.
"Those two things were there when we purchased the property," Johnson noted. "This happens, but the scrutiny is certainly warranted."
The problem for the county is the appearance of impropriety, whether any is actually present or not.
"It's easy to think that there's a relationship," Johnson said, "That you know the person and wink, wink, nod, nod, and everything is taken care of."
That perception can be hard to shake when public officials are paying tax bills that are too low.
At Commissioner Art De La Cruz's property in the South Valley, a carport built nearly 10 years ago has been turned into a well-kept garage. But as far as the county assessor is concerned, the property is still a carport.
De La Cruz's tax bill reflects that. In fact, every year since 2009, his tax bill has actually decreased.
Since June, the County Assessor's Office has had staffers reviewing some two dozen properties in question. A full-scale reassessment of more than 250,000 properties countywide is in its early stages.
Assessor Tanya Giddings was tapped by commissioners to fill the vacancy left when the prior assessor, Karen Montoya, won election to the Public Regulation Commission.
Giddings inherited a mess.
"I knew there was going to be a lot of issues," said Giddings, "and I knew we were not going to be able to fix them overnight."
But some improvements have been off the tax rolls for nearly two decades.
At a home owned by Rosemary Perea, who has worked in the assessor's office since the early 1990s, field reviews missed a pool, porch and patio added to the property in 1995. What's more, Perea held up her end of the property-tax bargain by pulling the proper permits, which should have made the county's job even easier.
In addition to properties that were chronically undertaxed, some employees and public officials have been paying too much.
The second floor of Commissioner Debbie O'Malley's Albuquerque home is smaller than what's recorded at the assessor's office. Those few square feet will come off the tax rolls.
Little by little, Giddings and her staff hope to catch up. State guidelines call for a countywide reassessment every four to six years, but the last time Bernalillo County accomplished that Herculean task was last century.
The process is underway now, and Giddings won approval from the county commission to hire more than two dozen temporary and permanent staffers to help with the job.
"What it really comes down to is making sure we are treating everybody fair and equitable," the assessor said.
De La Cruz, who along with Johnson, Perea and others will be paying more property tax next year, agrees:
"What we do in our roads and jails and for law enforcement and everything that we need and want in our community is based on tax and property tax in particular, but it's important for us to all shoulder the burden," De La Cruz said,
While the roads were looking clearer Friday morning in the Albuquerque area, appearances can be deceiving
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