Assessment, jail issues decided
Walworth County Commissioner held another marathon meeting Thursday, March 27, spending nearly three hours on pressing issues and decisions that could shape the future of the county jail.
In one of the most debated issues in recent memory, the board heard Walworth County Director of Equalization Deb Kahl and Commission Duane Martin debate the value of bringing in an outside assessor to assist Kahl and her staff with assessing homes in the county.
Martin wanted to hire the assessor to deal with the assessments, preparing an information packet for each home. These packets would be kept on file and updated regularly in order to keep the homes current with markets and property values, according to Martin.
He also asked the commission to replace one of the deputy assessors who left the office to take another job. Martin told the board he didn’t think it was possible for Kahl and her staff to do the work necessary to make changes to incorrect assessments that were already sent out and to make sure every property is assessed at fair and market value before the end of the year.
He asked the commission to also approve overtime for the staff in Kahl’s office in order for them to do the work that needs to be completed.
He said the main reason he is pushing so hard for these changes is that he, as a steward of the taxpayers of Walworth County, cannot go another year with someone else paying his share of taxes in the county. He said when all homes were assessed at the correct value, property owners should be paying their fair share of taxes across the board.
Kahl explained that the quickly-changing market coupled with legislation and her office being understaffed caused the imbalance in the assessments.
“This has been a fairly high market, as the sales will tell you,” she told the board. “When I first got here most sales were in between $50,000 to $80,000. Now there are more sales over $100,000 than any other.”
She said legislation was passed that would not allow her to raise assessments more than a set percentage per year. The 150 percent rule, which will not allow certain sales to be considered good and fair sales and had kept the sales below market values. Kahl said more and more home sales became 150 percent rules sales because of what was happening in Ag land sales.
All of this, coupled with being understaffed, caused the back-up in fair assessments.
“I am forever grateful for the help I got,” she said. “My job is not just putting value on properties. With the active market, I need the extra help fielding the calls from banks and insurance companies.”
She told the board she would rather hire a company that deals with assessing specialty properties and businesses to free her up to do residential assessments. She said she feels more comfortable with those who are experts assessing the larger properties.
She said she believed that she and her staff could complete the work in Mobridge and Selby completed before the end of the year. Kahl said the Ag land in the county was well equalized.
The board approved hiring another deputy assessor, an approved the overtime but did not approve hiring outside help to aid in assessing either the resident properties or the special or commercial properties.
Dean Marske of HKG and Associates of Aberdeen told the commissioners that his firm would not be in charge of any public meetings held to inform the public about the proposed jail project. He said the firm would create plan boards and help to explain the plans, the history and cost of the project and to understand the finance options.
Sheriff Duane Mohr requested the commission approve a $35,000 contract with the firm to provide updated plans for the proposed project and provide information for the public meetings.
Martin asked if the commission would be able to justify the cost of operating a 55-bed facility. He said it would be triple that of the current jail’s operational cost. He said the building and financing of the project were not the concern. It was the continued operational cost of the jail that would be the problem.
Mohr repeated that the Marshal’s Service needs the extra bed space and would be housing federal prisoners here if the new jail were built. To that Martin asked if the commission was willing to commit to the project when it is not yet known what kind of facility is needed in the area with the coming changes on the national and state levels.
The commission approved the contract for HKG to continue with the plans and information for the public meetings.
Commissioners voted to appoint Dave Siemon of Mobridge to replace retiring commissioner Don Leff. Siemon and Willie Hepper, also of Mobridge, have filed petitions for that seat in the November election. Hepper was also considered for the seat.
Rick Godkin was appointed as vice-chair of the commission to replace Leff in that position.
The meeting ended with a heated exchange between Leff and Martin. Leff ended his 12 years as a commission by calling Martin on the carpet for the tough stand he is taking on certain issues, including telling employees they needs to do what is expected of them.
He said the employees deserved to be treated with respect and threatening their jobs was creating a harmful atmosphere. He said employees were leaving because of it.
Martin said every employee and every commissioner needs to be held accountable to the Walworth County residents. He said he is only asking the employees to do their jobs.
Commissioner Phylliss Pudwill said there had been comments made about Martin’s position, but the blame for some employees leaving the county was not on Martin.
Leff told Martin he would be keeping an eye him.
– Katie Zerr –