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Local wants state to investigate Assessor’s office; Woman says she has overpaid taxes; county manager says operations are an ‘open book’

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Dr. Susan Neldon stands in front of the pipe fence that she said has been treated as the boundary line for her East Berrendo Road property for years until she protested her property taxes this year. She said the county recently expanded her property by 0.19 acres, which she and her neighbor said now puts her property line in her neighbor's land. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A Roswell woman has asked state officials to investigate the Chaves County Assessor’s Office after a seven-month conflict that began with her asking for a $30 refund.

Dr. Susan Neldon has a list of complaints against the Assessor’s office, which is responsible for determining property valuations and taxes in Chaves County.

An Aug. 2 protest hearing resulted in a lowering of her property valuation by more than $15,000, which means she is due about $182 for a refund, but, she contends, it did not address some of the fundamental concerns about how her taxes are determined.

“Did they do this to other people?” Neldon says about her major concern.

While many of her complaints deal with her property only, some might indicate larger problems countywide, she said. These include the allegations that she is wrongly being assessed for water rights contrary to state statute, that her residential home site has been expanded to fives acres instead of one acre and that her property line was extended into a neighbor’s property.

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On Sept. 20, she wrote to the New Mexico Department of Taxation and Revenue asking for an investigation, and she said she also has contacted the Attorney General’s office with her concerns.

County officials said her points already have been made at meetings and at the official County Valuation Protests Board hearing, which includes a representative from the Taxation and Revenue Department. They also say that Neldon has not sought redress in a way in which county staff can respond.

“She did not avail herself of her right to appeal to District Court,” said County Assessor Mark Willard. “She hasn’t come in to try to resolve those issues with us, but she has talked to a lot of other people.”

Neldon said she tried numerous times to talk with county staff before and after the hearing, and she also met with Chaves County Commissioner Robert Corn and State Rep. Bob Wooley (R-Roswell) to alert them to her concerns about the use of the Global Positioning System device that resulted in her moved property line.

Chaves County Manager Stanton Riggs agreed that Neldon’s proper recourse is in District Court if she is unhappy with the conclusion of the protest hearing, which he said lasted more than two hours when they normally only take about 30 minutes. He added that the county’s operations are an open book, with independent financial audits occurring regularly and the state Taxation and Revenue Department periodically reviewing the tax collection procedures and processes of the county.

“If they would like to come again and look at what we’ve been doing, we would invite that,” said Riggs. “The Assessor’s office would not have a problem with that at all.”

He also said that Neldon can protest again regarding this year’s taxes if she feels problems were not resolved.

Neldon, a retired anesthesiologist who once worked for St. Mary’s Hospital in Roswell, purchased her home and land on East Berrendo Road in 1990. In December 2016, she said, she wondered why her taxes were increasing so much and found that the Assessor’s office had increased the size of her home by 238 square feet since when she purchased the property.

After making some additional inquiries, she said, she then received a document that indicated all measurements of structures on her property were different than originally described, so she requested that someone from the Assessor’s office come out to re-measure her property and its structures, a request she said was denied on several occasions.

That led her to the initial request for a refund of $30.63 for what she said were overpaid taxes in 2016 based on wrong measurements. That request was denied.

Many different events took place after that, but at the Aug. 2 protest hearing, officials conceded that some mistakes had been made over the years and that Neldon’s property had been overvalued by $15,946. Neldon said that means she is owed a refund of $182.10 for 2016, not the $30.63 she initially requested. And, she asks, what is she owed for 16 years of mistakes?

The protest board’s findings do not satisfy Neldon, and not just because she says she has yet to receive the 2016 refund. She said the more important point is that the underlying issues have not been acknowledged, and she wonders if the errors constitute violations of property tax codes and state statutes.

The first concern that she says could affect other property owners is her contention that she is being assessed for water rights. She said she owns 6.7 acres of land, most of it used for non-residential purposes, and seven acres of water rights. But instead of having what she considers a proper assessment, one acre of residential property for her home site and 5.7 acres of non-residential land, she was assessed five acres for residential property and seven acres of non-residential land. She said that seven acres represents her water rights.

She contends that New Mexico statutes prohibit valuing water rights in such a way, and she quotes from a section of the statutes. That section reads, in part, that “water rights and private roads shall not be valued separately from the land they serve.”

She also said that home sites, which are valued at higher rates than non-residential land, should not be greater than one acre when no more than one acre is used for residential purposes.

Her third point concerns the latest measurement of her property by county staff in July, in which she said a GPS device was used instead of the standard surveying methods. GPS devices are known to have a greater degree of error than some other methods. She said that latest measurement increased her property by 0.19 acres beyond her pipe fence line, into what she and her neighbor contend is the neighbor’s property.

“Why are they using the GPS against me, except I filed a protest?” she asked, saying that not using a uniform method of measurement is contrary to state law. “Now two people are paying for the same piece of land.”

That neighbor, Jerry Desjardins, said he is Neldon’s ally in her quest to resolve the tax and property line issues and has accompanied her to several meetings. He said that if the new property line is where the county recently told Neldon it is, he would be denied access to a road that leads to his horse stalls.

“That’s why we are working together on this,” Neldon said. “We don’t want to fight over this.”

County officials stand by their actions and contend that they have followed the proper procedures, but Neldon said she will pursue the matter. “Now I’m angry,” she said.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.