MARTIN: Assessor’s records need updating
Not having the manpower in the county assessor’s office for a consistent update in records is a problem the Walworth County Commission is currently facing.
With more than 7,500 parcels in the county, Walworth County should have three full-time employees in the assessor’s office according to a state recommendation. Currently there is one fulltime position (the assessor) and one part-time position.
According to Commissioner Duane Martin the most common complaint he has heard from county residents is the assumed inequity of taxes.
“Property owners feel that properties are not taxed fairly or on an equal basis,” he said. “Taxpayers generally believe that comparable and similar properties do not have comparable assessed valuations, therefore an unfair tax structure.”
Martin, who was a property appraiser, said he thinks some taxpayers may not know how taxes are levied.
“Entities (municipalities, school district, county) submit their budgets to the county auditor who then applies a tax levy to the assessed valuations of that entity in order to collect enough taxes to meet those budgets requested by each entity,” he said. “If the budgets are increased or decreased, the tax levy is adjusted accordingly.”
The county’s director of equalization office (assessors office) has the responsibility to ensure that all properties in the county are assessed in an equal and uniform manner, according to Martin. Only after all properties in the county are assessed in a uniform manner can the taxes be distributed fairly between property owners.
If a limited number of properties have updated assessed value, those property owners will be paying taxes on current values, whether it be higher or lower than on previous or outdated assessed values.
“Based on my personal observation and discussion with others that have reason to be interested in assessed valuations, it is apparent to me and others that the Walworth County assessor’s records need to be updated,” he said. “All properties assessed valuations need to be reviewed. Asking our assessor to do all of that is asking too much.”
With taxes based on what cities and other entities need for operation costs, updated valuations would spread the tax levy more fairly across the board.”
A more current and fairly assessed value on all properties would lower the tax levies, according to Martin. He said he reviewed a random sample of current assessment records and based on that random sample he found that current assessments are based on 60 percent of market value in the county.
“It is desirable to be at 100 percent of market value,” he said. “Based on that sampling, an updated assessed value equal to market value could reduce the tax levy for the City of Mobridge from $6.7 per $1,000 of value to $4.8 of assessed value.”
He said tax levies for the school districts and other municipalities could also follow that pattern.
He said it is important that all updates be done in the same manner in order to ensure a fair valuation.
“It doesn’t matter if you base the assessment on X, Y or Z, as long as it is all done in the same manner,” he said.
He said any current problem with this situation is mainly due to the fact there is an inadequate number of staff to update these tax valuations.
“State standards suggest that an assessor’s office should have one employee for each 2,500 parcels to achieve and maintain compliance to state standards,” he said. “Walworth County has more than 7,500 parcels, therefore in order to be in compliance with those state standards, this office should have a minimum of three fulltime employees.”
In order to accomplish the equal valuations, the county office should be reviewing more than 35 records per day.
“The commissioners are aware of the issues with the equalization office and are currently considering corrective action,” said Martin. “The goal is to make every attempt to update all property records and to review all properties assessed valuations before the 2014 tax assessments.”
He said the commissioners are striving to restore credibility to the equalization office by staffing the office in the manner that will allow for fair tax valuations.
“We want to update all assessed values of properties in the county so that the tax burdens in all entities in the county will be distributed fairly between all citizens,” he said.
– Katie Zerr –