State dings Assessor for late inspections


A report issued by the state Department of Revenue says that the Grays Harbor County Assessor’s Office is consistently late in completing its revaluation work and completing work needed to figure out the value of new construction in order to increase the tax base used for figuring out property taxes across the Harbor.

The result causes a delay in agencies completing their budgets, a lack of accurate information, delays in appealing property tax and valuation decisions and an increase in frustration levels among staff and the public. Assessor Rick Hole says he knows about the problems and blames years and years of cutbacks in his office taking its toll. Recently, the county commissioners forgave part of the budget cuts his office owed to the general operating budget and authorized him to hire a residential appraiser to fill a vacant position, as well as a new personal property/exemption administrator.

Hole says the delays are not a new phenomenon. Everything just got so late last year that it drew an extra special look by the state Department of Revenue, which spent months looking into the issues and issuing recommendations.

The state agency issued a formal report in May. Hole said he’s been so busy that he hasn’t had a chance to compile a response.

DEADLINES NOT MET

In 2006 and then in 2007, inspections on property across the Harbor were completed in May. Inspections have been taking longer and longer to do since then.

In 2008, inspections were completed by June 27. In 2009, inspections were completed by July 31. In 2010, it was Aug. 31.

In 2011, inspections weren’t finished until Nov. 2. And, last year, the inspections didn’t finish until Dec. 2, triggering the review by the state.

“Due to the lateness of completing the assessment year 2012 processes, the Assessor is getting a later start on assessment year 2013, which will put more pressure on staff. Additionally, with staff turnover, there will be some lost productivity and additional training necessary.”

Hole says the county reached an agreement to get the inspections finished by an Oct. 25 deadline set by the state. Thus far, he says, the county is on track with appraisers in the field in the Aberdeen, McCleary and Satsop areas.

“Right now, we’re tight to meet that deadline,” Hole said.

TWO ASSESSORS

By state law, the report notes, the assessor must complete inspection and valuation of property by May 31 for all property in the revaluation area — a deadline not met since May of 2007.

Assessor Cherri Rose Konschu was in charge of the office from 2007 to 2010. Assessor Hole took over in January of 2011.

“When assessment and valuation processes are not completed in a timely manner, it can have significant impacts,” the report states. “It can set the Assessor’s work back, causing a late start on the next year, which can compound over time. It may also cause the Assessor to not meet other deadlines that are dependent on valuations being complete and the assessment roll certified such as Board of Equalization hearings, completion of the levy process and completion of accurate and timely reports.”

Hole notes that in 2009, his employees began to take required furlough days so the office could continue to meet its budget. There were 122 lost days among his nine appraisers. By 2012, his office lost one full-time appraiser and his eight remaining were issued temporary layoff notices for a combined 276 days. The county commissioners required the unpaid days off to balance the county’s overall budget and reduce spending.

Fewer people meant less time to do the job and missed deadlines.

CHANGE IN PRIORITIES

The report notes that long-standing procedures and work flow “contributed to (the) difficulty in allocating staff resources.”

Appraisers are assigned to specific market areas for inspection and valuation, “which made it difficult to assign staff to unfamiliar areas to assist with other inspection and revaluation work where they were behind.”

Assessor Hole also “identified a need to capture additional land characteristics required to reflect the market accurately in their valuation model,” the report states.

If a home sits next to a river or has a waterfront view, the property may be worth more, for instance.

“Capturing these additional characteristics caused inspections to take additional time,” the report states.

The report notes that the Assessor’s Office “should balance gathering additional land characteristics with the effect on the accuracy of value and the impact on productivity.”

“Real estate is all about location, location, location so almost immediately, when I took office, we added more characteristics around land so we could make sure to note if the property is near the ocean, bay, a river, a golf course,” Hole said. “You can imagine an ocean-view property will have higher value than an interior lot. But this data had never been collected before.”

County Commissioner Wes Cormier was an appraiser in the Assessor’s Office before taking public office earlier this year.

Cormier said that gathering the extra statistics was understood by himself and the other appraisers — “But it took a lot of time, a lot of time we really didn’t have. And it’s my understanding that they’re gathering even more characteristics now.”

Cormier said that since Hole made the decision to use a customized annual revaluation system built by the county instead of one already made by one of several professional firms around the country, it meant gathering more information on every parcel across the county at a time when the office had severe staff shortages.

“I don’t know if that’s a decision I would have made,” Cormier said. “But I haven’t seen the assessor’s plan from start to finish. And I don’t want to be seen as micromanaging his office. That said, Rick has come to us and made requests and we’ve taken all of his requests seriously and made sure to give him the funding he needs to succeed. If there are still problems, he needs to come to us and let us know so that he can meet his deadlines.”

For the full story, see the Oct. 3 edition of The Vidette or go online to www.thevidette.com with a subscription.