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County raises valuation fees to keep township assessors

Hubbard County will likely continue a longstanding practice of having township assessors conduct property valuations after the board raised its fee schedules to perform those services, making it financially impractical for county employees to do the work.

Hubbard County assessor Bob Hansen told the county board Wednesday, "If we don't change our rates I think it's a matter of time before people want us to do it."

Currently 100 percent of the county's property valuations, estimated between 28,000 and 29,000 parcels, are done by township assessors. But is hasn't always been a smooth process.

"I have a problem with the way some of these township assessors do their jobs," said commissioner Cal Johannsen, noting he has received numerous complaints from constituents. "I don't believe they should go on someone's property without making an appointment."

"Some of these properties you'd never get on," board chair Lyle Robinson said, if assessors had to make appointments.

Hansen said with many working families, it's impossible to find a convenient time to visit some properties, so assessors view the property regardless of whether someone is present at the time. By law 20 percent of a county's properties must undergo an annual on-site visit to affix a value. That way, in five years, all properties are kept appraised at or near current market values.

And some areas, particularly changing subdivisions and new construction, must be viewed every year, he added.

Hansen is concerned about leaving door hangers for homeowners indicating assessors have been on the property. It could be a signal to absent property owners - and potential burglars - that the home is vacant.

The county rates to assess commercial and industrial properties will only go up $10 per parcel, from $20 to $30.

Other fees will go up $5, from $15 to $20 per parcel for real estate, personal property and manufactured homes. Exempt properties will go up $1, from $3 to $4 per parcel.

Hansen estimated it could take up to an additional four to five county employees to conduct the valuations, and training could be fairly costly to certify all the assessors. He and a current office assessor are certified to perform all valuations now; two other employees on staff could work on the valuations that don't require a certified specialist. But the overworked department would likely have to hire more people, he suggested.

Commissioners worried about the "windshield time" it would take to cover the county, driving from property to property.

Township assessors, considered independent contractors, generally charge per parcel or record and must incur the cost of their own training, mileage, continuing education and certification, Hansen said.

The board launched into a lengthy debate over whether the county should estimate its costs and base the increased fees on what it actually costs to perform the appraisals. Commissioner Greg Larson tried to keep the board on track, saying it had the authority to set fees as necessary without justifying costs.

Hansen said the benefits of the current system are that the township assessors generally take calls after normal county office hours when his staff isn't available. And, if the county were to lose an assessor, it would be impossible to get to the new construction, he maintained.

But he said there is a downside, too.

"If I have trouble with an assessor I have hell to pay to get rid of them," he said.

"We need to maintain the status quo," board chair Lyle Robinson said. Raising the fees will "encourage townships to hire their own qualified assessors."