KATIE ZERR: Assessment rile county residents


Some Walworth County residents received eye-opening notices recently that were probably followed by language not suited for print.

As the new property assessments were processed and owners notified of the new value of their properties, many saw values that were doubled and sometimes tripled.

Although for years we have known there were properties in the area that were grossly undervalued or not assessed at all, the new assessments were completely out of control for some residents.

As the news began to spread across the communities, there were stories of older, smaller homes tripling in value, while some larger, newer homes had smaller increases. There were stories of older mobile homes with no garages being assessed at more than the owner paid for the land and structure 20 years before.

Some of these stories are just that, stories. But in some cases the new assessments were believed to be so unreasonable that residents are arming themselves with information and heading to see the county commissioners.

Some residents received a second, more credible assessment later last week. It cooled some tempers, but the wave of discontent is still swelling.

Of course there are many questions about how this will impact property taxes. There is much confusion about the process and how mil levies and assessments work. Walworth County Commissioner Duane Martin, who has a quarter of a century’s worth of experience in this field, wrote a detailed explanation on how the process works for this edition of the Tribune (on page 3.) All residents should read it, and if there are more questions, contact Martin for an explanation.

The updating of the assessments was a huge undertaking. Three people in one office were trying to work with new software, new formulas, and updated information. Those in the assessor’s office are working hard to correct the initial incorrect assessments.

The anger over the new assessments is justified and couldn’t come at a worse time in Mobridge. With a vote coming in April on the new outdoor pool project, more people are saying they cannot vote to support the bond. Without a thorough understanding of how the system works, residents are thinking their taxes will follow their assessment values and many say they cannot afford to stay in their homes with taxes that could triple.

Unfortunately, history has shown no matter what factual information is given to residents, they tend to believe what they hear in the rumor mill more than what is factual.

Hopefully, the misinformation and the assessments will be corrected in time for voters to feel comfortable with voting to support the pool project.

As residents receive the second assessments, they need to also take into consideration how the system works. If everyone pays their fair share, it is possible that a good portion of the tax bills in our county will be reduced. Again, read Martin’s explanation thoroughly and learn how it works before making decisions that impact our community for years to come.

The problem in the assessor’s office is an indication that we need to take a good, long look at how our local government is operating. For many years the status quo was good enough and cost was used as a weapon against upgrades and changes.

The era of entering hand-written information in ledgers is long gone, but for some reason, the fight against updating equipment and changing ways has been a hard-fought battle on the county level.

For years this office received faxes from county offices instead of emails because people in some offices didn’t know how to transfer information from one source to another on a computer.

Coming from one who does not have a great appreciation of modern technology, refusing to learn to use computer software or learning the basic abilities of the computer is counter-productive. It is the way things are done now, whether we like it or not.

As much as we want to hold on to “the way things have always been done” that is not how our world runs anymore.

We need to track information and that means change. If we have people in office or in manager or supervisory positions that refuse to make needed changes, they need to be replaced.

Just because it has always been that way, doesn’t mean it is the way it should be done.




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