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Several factors play into $500,000 request, assessor says

Thursday, June 10, 2004



After the Clay County Council authorized the assessor's office to spend a $500,000 appropriation from the Reassessment Fund, some questions were raised about the office's past reassessment work.

Assessor C.R. Boyd told the council that the money was needed to do a complete audit of the county's residential land. Data in the office's computer system would need to be changed to reflect the audit's findings. The council and others within the county wondered where money was spent and why these actions were not taken in the past.

Boyd said the decision to ask for the money in April stemmed from a 2001 meeting with the county's township trustees.

During the meeting, it was decided to hold off on a complete audit. Boyd said the state had not provided them the pricing schedules at that time, and office software needed certification from the Department of Local Government Finance.

In 1995, Boyd and office employee Gary Schultz did gather new information on the county. Over two years, the two canvassed the county and got new information on residential land parcels. With these facts in mind, the trustees voted to put off requesting the money for the time being.

"We felt like our information was basically good at the time," Boyd said. "To spend half a million on what we felt was then a few thousand dollars worth of land improvement was kind of pointless."

For the 2005 (pay 2006) Property Taxes an equalization is due. Though the exact meaning of this is complicated, basically, the measure was made by the state to be sure everyone's taxes were fair. Boyd said he felt land data needed to be as accurate as possible for this equalization, so he asked for the money.

Some of the current inaccuracies in the system come from a software change, Boyd said. During the transfer of data, some of the information became corrupted and incorrect. The audit will assure that this problem is fixed.

Some confusion on the office's spending, he said, comes from a misunderstanding about the use of Reassessment Fund money. The funding can be used for a variety of purposes, not just physical reassessments. Among other purchases, the office used the money to buy digital photography equipment and a GIS mapping program, as well as generally maintain the office.

Schultz does look for improvements on and removals from land, but not every one of these can be found.

"It's not very well-known, but there is a statute that says you must inform the assessor's office of any improvement over $500 you make to your property," he said. "We can fine people for ignoring this. The problem you run into is when you get someone who doesn't know about this. It's not very fair to fine them then."

Boyd said this rule does not apply to residents of Brazil City, since city building permits are forwarded to his office. Without a county zoning ordinance in place, however, it is "almost impossible" to keep tabs on every improvement within the county.

Township trustees also check for improvements made to properties, though the ever-changing rules and numbers would make it hard for them to completely canvass their township.

"You don't make a major change in procedure like that and expect it to all work again at once," he said.

The statutes, numbers, and rules involved have made it just as difficult for Boyd and Schultz to repeat their 1995 job. Boyd said a contract with an outside firm will guarantee accurate numbers and data for a fair equalization. Not only will this provide an up-to-date look at the county's land, the data will be corrected in the county's computers.

Boyd said the statewide confusion over the reassessment trickled down to the county level, making it difficult to figure much of anything out.

"I'd get a memo on a new way to do something and two weeks later get an amendment to it," he said. "It was kind of hard to start something. It's been somewhat of a guesswork."

The lack of material from the state also hindered the office.

"It was not required that we do this audit in 2001," he said. "We should have done it during the reassessment, but we didn't have the stuff to do it then."

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