Brad Francis settles 2010 tax dispute

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A local business owner has successfully completed a property tax protest, lowering the assessed tax value of his Los Lunas automotive dealership.
Last year, Brad Francis was included in a News-Bulletin article chronicling the numerous business properties around the county that were delinquent on property taxes.
Francis, owner of Brad Francis Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Los Lunas, had paid his 2010 taxes — to the tune of $69,941 — but he paid them under protest, meaning he disputed the assessed value of his property.
Because the taxes were paid under protest, the treasurer’s office still reflected the dealership’s 2010 taxes as being delinquent.
Finally in February, Francis received a letter from Valencia County Treasurer Dorothy Lovato containing a refund check for $10,702. Lovato wrote in the accompanying letter that the protest had been settled, and Francis had overpaid his 2010 property taxes on three parcels.
Francis said the three years it took to resolve his protest was not typical.
“According to my attorney, (the county assessor) dropped the ball,” Francis said. “We kept requesting and requesting information, and it kept being pushed back. But he stayed on it for this long and got it done.”
The money Francis paid in 2011 was held in an escrow account until the protest was resolved.
“What we protested was that land values had not gone up in 2010. Initially, on one building, they raised (the assessment of) that building significantly higher than the rest, so we protested,” he said.
Francis said he was satisfied with the outcome of the protest, but he was not happy with the length of time it took or the News-Bulletin’s coverage of the issue that put him on the Top 10 list of business delinquencies. The paper reported that Francis had paid his taxes under protest, but he was still listed as delinquent because technically the money had not been received and disbursed by the county due to the protest.
“People see ‘delinquent on property taxes’ and you just hope they read the fine print,” he said. “That’s not good for any business.”
Francis said with what the recession did to land values across the country, if anything, land values should have been assessed lower in 2010 than they were the previous year.
“For them to go up was not right,” he said.
The protest filed by Francis was on three separate parcels that, in 2010, were billed a total of $52,784 in taxes, plus fees and interest. In 2011, taxes for the properties rose to $59,288, but then dropped after reassessment for 2012 and 2013 to $42,933 and $43,120, respectively.
Property taxes for the three parcels are current.
Since the article ran in June, several of the Top 10 delinquent business property owners have paid off or nearly eliminated their back tax balances, and across the board, the county has collected about $390,000 in delinquent taxes.
Barbara Swadley, who owned Adobe Flowers, paid $96,245 in January to bring her bill current.
Valley Improvement Association cut its delinquency of $67,432 on its office plaza in Rio Communities to zero, Lovato said. VIA President and CEO Paul Baca said last year, at the end of July, the company was able to secure a loan to take care of the back taxes on the plaza.
The $67,505 owed on the Cattleman’s Livestock Barn, owned by Dennis Chavez, was paid in December.
Rozella Haynes, owner of an office building at 121 Don Diego St., Los Lunas, which houses  Los Lunas Magistrate Court, is on a state contract to pay $1,500 a month to pay down $33,737 owed on 18 acres of vacant land on the village’s west side.
Lovato said the $40,799 owed on the Don Diego property is under contract, but the state has told her to apply the payments Haynes makes to the largest amounts owed on the vacant property first.
In the June 13 article it was initially reported that Auge Sales and Service Inc. and Auge Family Properties owed a combined $74,127 in back property taxes.
Information provided by the Valencia County Treasurer’s Office indicated that Auge Sales and Service Inc. owed the majority of that — $68,337 — on a property at 650 E. River Road in Belen.
What was not clear in the tax records was that the property had been sold to Belen  Schools in 2009. The property taxes were current at the time of the sale.
The name of the property owner was not changed to that of the school district due to discrepancies between the property’s legal description and the description on the plat, said June De Loia, the property records controller with the Valencia County Assessor’s office.
The name of the property owner was changed to Belen  Schools on June 17, 2013, and the three years of back taxes assessed on the property were voided because the school district is exempt from property taxes.
After the article ran last year, Lovato said some business property owners made significant payments on the back taxes in an attempt to beat the July 1 deadline for the county to turn those delinquencies over to the state.
“Some made some really big payments, called us to try and set something up. Others, we didn’t hear anything from,” Lovato said. “It was disappointing to not get any response from some of them.”
Every year, at the beginning of July, every county treasurer turns over a list of delinquent properties older than three years to the New Mexico Department of Taxation and Revenue. After that, it is up to the state to either auction the property off for the value of the tax debt or put the property owner on a repayment plan, typically referred to as a “state contract.”
The treasurer said it’s important for property owners to pay their back taxes before the three-year deadline comes around, otherwise the money goes to the state before being disbursed back to the county. If an owner is put on a state contract, payment has to be completed in three years and they have to stay current on new taxes. The payments for the back taxes stay with the state and are then disbursed as one lump sum to the county once the contract is completed.
PI Property Investments, which owns the property on the southeast corner of Main Street and Sandoval Road in Los Lunas, is under an installment agreement with the state for that property and three others for a back owned amount of $37,589.
“They have to keep their taxes current with us and make their monthly payment to Santa Fe,” Lovato said.
Still owing back taxes on property on Thomas Road, Suzette Lindemuth made payments totaling $11,500 in February and has been paying $1,500 a month since then. Lovato said in some months, she has paid $3,000 and currently owes $91,643.
“The back taxes on those properties are not on an installment agreement,” Lovato said. “I guess she has a verbal agreement with the state.”
The treasurer said the 2013 taxes are not current on the property even though Lindemuth is making payments.
“Anything she’s paying is going to towards the prior years first,” she said.
During an interview after the original tax story ran last year, Lindemuth said the businesses on Thomas Road had nothing to do with the delinquent property taxes. The property and buildings are owned by Living Wall, LLC, of which Lindemuth is a managing member, and the businesses, which are hers, lease the property from the corporation.
County property tax records do not list the corporation as the property owner. They reflect Lindemuth and a Harold Lott.
Charles Apodaca, owner of the Two Minute Bar and Grill and Apodaca’s Liquor, owes $64,731 on the property, up from $48,217 last year. He has made three payments of $1,000 each since March, Lovato said, the most recent being last Friday.
The out-of-state owner of the old Mesa Motel in Belen, Frank Sanchez, has a delinquent balance of $80,718, up from last years $67,573. Lovato said several people have called her office asking for updated figures, including lawyers for the owners and title companies, an indication the property may soon be sold, but so far there’s been no payment.
“The building was red-tagged on Friday by the state for public auction,” Lovato said.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.