Assessor waives special taxes for disabled vets
A conflict in the state's property tax rules is potentially adding dollars to local veterans' tax bills.
Peralta veteran Ted Roybal is one of the property owners who led the charge several years ago to have 100 percent disabled veterans completely exempted from property taxes.
What Roybal didn't realize at the time was that the legislation did not include what are called "special benefit assessments," such as conservancy districts.
"We fought for 100 percent exemption, then all of a sudden the MRGCD tax showed up," Roybal said. "They have turned their backs on us, turned a deaf ear."
Roybal says no other county has done what Valencia County has — imposed the special benefit assessments. And being an election year, Roybal said he plans to remind local politicians that veterans are a powerful voting block.
"We will be asking, 'Do you support vets like you say you do?'" Roybal said.
The special benefit assessments came to light when tax bills went out last year. When Roybal contacted Valencia County Assessor Viola Vallejos, she sent a letter out to the vets, explaining the conflict and letting them know she would waive the assessment.
According to the state administrative code, the disabled veteran exemption applies to property taxes for things such as hospital and flood control districts, but not "special benefit assessments authorized by laws outside the property tax code, such as conservancy district assessments."
In Valencia County, there are two conservancy districts — the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy and the Valencia Soil and Water Conservancy District.
"We sent letters to about 700 veterans to let them know the assessments would be removed," Vallejos said.
About five veteran property owners were in the MRGCD's benefited area, she said, which is situated between the Belen HighLine Canal and the Chical Lateral.
The assessment was added to the veterans' bills after the county's recent computer software upgrade.
In the old software system, the assessor's office would indicate a zero dollar amount for a veteran's property valuation. That information would be sent to the treasurer's office, and a tax bill was created and mailed.
Under the new software system, all the taxes and special assessments are programed in and added to a property owner's bill automatically, Vallejos said, so when the most recent bills went out, the special assessments for the MRGCD were included on the bills for disabled veterans.
"We have waived the assessments for this year and as long as I am assessor, I will continue to waive them," she said.
Vallejos said the special benefit assessments are not equally applied to veterans around the state, with some counties adding them on while others don't.
She said in a recent conversations with Alan Martinez, deputy secretary for the New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services, he indicated his department is forming a special task force to take the issue to the Legislature.
"The only way to take care of the problem is through the Legislature. We thought it would be taken care of during this session, but it wasn't," Vallejos said.
Senate Bill 312, which would have exempted 100 percent disabled veterans from the special benefit assessments, was sponsored by Sen. Michael Sanchez (D-Belen). The bill made it through the Senate 37-0, but never made it out of the House's Taxation and Revenue Committee.
The fiscal impact report on the proposed bill prepared by the Legislative Finance Committee said the impact of not collecting the special benefits assessments from veterans would be minimal.
So for now, Vallejos will waive the assessment for as long as she can.
"And I honestly believe the next assessor will do the same," she said. "We support our veterans 100 percent. This goes back to the intent of the law. I think assessors across the state believed it exempted disabled veterans from all assessments."
Orlando Montoya, the department's chief appraiser, said the state property tax division checks the county's exemptions every year.
"They never said anything about us not assessing the special benefit assessments," Montoya said.
Roybal said this is not a Republican or Democrat issue but rather a veterans' issue. He said state legislators have a tendency to only focus on the issues of people living in their districts.
"But this is a whole Valencia County issue," he said. "We have got to educate the public. Veterans are in an uproar to get this solved. We're tired of it being a Republican issue or a Democrat issue; we're going to make it a patriotic issue."
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