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Guest Post: Bannock County Assessor’s Office Ineptitude – Truly Time for Change

June 19th, 2008 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

One of the side affects of a horrendously out-of-control county budget is the fact that the Assessor’s office has to generate the tax revenue to pay for it. With apparent questionable operations and the lack of ethical guidelines and competence previously characteristic of the Assessor’s office, the County has been able to generate the necessary property valuations to meet the budgetary demands of a 30% increase in the County budget this year.

This past week I’ve visited with dozens of individuals who have had dealings with the Assessor’s office, and the emerging picture is downright ugly. Having been run with competence and fairness for years under the leadership of Diane Bilyeu, it is now a veritable cess pool of cronyism, incompetent leadership, retribution against taxpayers, and unethical operations.

Since Jo Lynn Anderson took the helm at the Assessor’s office, the department has steadily declined in professionalism and competence. According to the State Tax Commission, the office is out of compliance with state guidelines, and it appears it will be so again this year. After two years of being out of compliance, the state can intervene to remedy the situation and the County can lose State revenue. That appears likely to occur.

Our current Assessor and her assistants, “the management,” have refused repeated offers to receive management training to improve operations. She came into the office with no management or assessment experience other than drawing maps for 35 years for the department. Consequently, the de facto managers of the office are her assistants. Jo Lynn also no longer attends Idaho Association of County Assessor’s meetings since they sometimes go into Executive Session where only Assessors can attend, and since Jo Lynn has no functioning knowledge of the appraisal business, she won’t attend those without her assistants.

Much of the problem seems to be the hostile work environment that the management has created. The professional appraisers who are or have been there have been coerced to perform unethical adjustments to assessments contrary to standards of the industry. The appraisers’ reluctance to make such adjustments created significant tension between them and management, and has resulted in the loss of all but two certified real property appraisers and one manufactured home appraiser, where there should be at least seven altogether. The Assessor has hired unqualified friends and political supporters who draw pay at the high end of their scale. The Assessor brags that the reason they receive such high compensation is because she brought in so much revenue for the County last year.

The Assessor’s office is required to abide by the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) developed by the Appraisal Standards Board (ASB). These standards mandate equitable and ethical appraisal of property values. Yet my research consistently turned up examples of excessive valuations next to properties virtually unaffected by reassessment, in spite of more improvements made to the neighboring properties. Also contrary to USPAP standards, if the Assessor’s office can’t gain access to a residential property, management has instructed department appraisers to value the property with a half-finished basement. When the reluctant appraisers were told to engage in these unethical practices, the issue was forced by telling them they have to do it “because I’m management.”

Commercial assessments are now being done by an appraiser not trained or experienced in commercial appraisal. This has created profound inequity in assessments in similar properties throughout the county, significantly higher than similar properties in neighboring cities.

When the rare successful appeal of an assessment rescinds the Assessor’s valuation, an attitude of retribution is assumed. Within earshot of many witnesses, a member of the management team told one taxpayer who was successful in his appeal, “We’ll get you next time you son-of-a-b****.” And to another, “You got me this time, but we’ll get even.” One of them, after a successful appeal by a residential taxpayer, inquired “How quickly can I go after (taxpayers’ name) again?” Management demanded a $20,000 higher assessment on a residential property declaring, “He’s a tax crybaby and he needs to learn a lesson.”

We all saw the headlines earlier this week of how the Assessor’s office is attempting to “tax-rape” ON Semiconductor. This is unacceptable, and all too characteristic of how the Assessor’s office now operates. If something isn’t done immediately to remedy the situation, Bannock County will be decimated. Retirees will be forced out of their homes, residents forced to relocate outside of the county, and businesses forced to close their doors because of the exorbitant tax rates. It would be disastrous if ON closed shop here because of property taxes. And we’re dreaming if we think new businesses will be willing to locate here when they get a whiff of what’s happening with property taxes.

I don’t think we can wait for two more years when the Assessor’s term ends. It’s time for a recall and time to clean up the Assessor’s Office!

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Family Matters, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Pocatello Issues, Taxes | No Comments »

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