ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The apparent abuses in granting agricultural tax breaks to high-end residential properties are now getting a closer look by the Bernalillo County Assessor's Office.
An investigation by KRQE News 13's Larry Barker broadcast on Thursday exposed owners of luxury homes reducing their taxes through a law intended for working farms.
The investigation looked at 30 properties and related county records showing thin--or in one case zero--documentation justifying the reductions in taxable values.
The assessor's office is supposed to be catching these phony farms, but it hasn't been.
So now what?
Deputy Assessor Damian Lara said the office has now launched an investigation.
"We've initiated field reviews of a lot of these properties, including the properties that were brought to our attention, and we are in communication with the property owners to make sure we have the most up-to-date information on those properties," Lara told News 13.
Lara says appraisers visited all the properties highlighted in Barker's investigation.
The assessor's office is now waiting on more paperwork from landowners before revising property values.
Any changes to property values and tax breaks landowners are getting won't go into effect until next year. A separate question is whether owners of the lavish homes might be penalized for claiming the tax breaks.
"If it was a willful and intentional fraud, for example, that a property owner was trying to deceive the assessor's office by not providing that information, in those types of circumstances we would consider imposing a penalty," Lara said.
KRQE News 13 isn't the only one pressing the county for answers. A letter from the state last month also points to the properties and others mislabeled as agricultural.
The county hopes new procedures will help assure mistakes like these don't continue. And, that's just the start of it.
Because of Barker's investigation, the assessor's office will recheck every one of the more than 4,000 properties classified as agricultural in Bernalillo County to be sure they really are qualified for the tax breaks.
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