Property values drop near Las Vegas

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By David Giuliani

A dropping water table southwest of Las Vegas is apparently taking a big toll on some home values.

Last month, a San Miguel County panel decided to lower valuations for four properties in the Ojitos Frios subdivision, where some residents have been without water. This will likely mean reduced property taxes.

A recent market estimate for Jack and Betty Thompson’s property came in at $275,000. But the county has since reappraised the property at $22,000 — a loss of more than 90 percent.

They have been without well water for three months. Instead, they are depending on water from their rain catchment system.

“It’s a desperate situation. We’re trying to survive basically — one day at a time,” Jack Thompson said.

The Thompsons’ well is more than 200 feet deep, as are many of their neighbors’ wells. They drilled another well in January — to a depth of  710 feet — and they didn’t hit water.

The Thompsons and their neighbors blame the city’s increased pumping at its nearby well at Taylor Wells. The city has been drawing about a half-million gallons a day from that well to supplement the water it gets from the Gallinas River, the community’s main source.

For years, the city insisted its pumping had nothing to do with the situation in Ojitos Frios, contending that the residents there had drilled too many wells in a small area.

These days, however, city officials are taking a more accommodating approach. They have allowed residents to use a 10,000-gallon tanker to haul water to the subdivision, though residents would have to pay for that water. Residents are working on the logistics to use the tanker.

Last summer, the county assessor’s office issued notices of value for property owners across the county. Four lot owners from the Ojitos Frios subdivision filed protests over their values, saying that the lack of water in that area had made their properties worth less.

County Assessor Elaine Estrada said she hadn’t handled such a situation before, so she referred it to the county valuation board. The board agreed to lower the values for the protesters’ lots.

In one instance, a property owner hadn’t even seen his well go dry; he just presented evidence showing that neighbors’ wells had done so. The owner bought the property for $180,0000 in 2002, but the county had increased its valuation to $220,000.

“If he were to put the property on the  market, he felt he wouldn’t get any more than he paid for it, if even that,” Estrada said.

Estrada said some people were upset that the county didn’t lower their valuations. But she said people need to file a protest within the required 30-day period, a requirement of state law.

“I expect more people to protest from that area next year,” Estrada said.

City Councilman Andrew Feldman said he’s against the city’s pumping of a half-million gallons a day from Taylor Wells, but he said such decisions are left to city management.

A geologist by training, Feldman said that over time, the city’s well will go dry because the pumping has caused lasting damage to the aquifer.

“We’re cutting off our nose to spite our face,” he said.