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Late assessments costing townships, taxpayers money

Local assessors missed the Feb. 1 deadline for submitting appraisal records, and it's causing headaches for the Hubbard County Assessor's Office.

By Minnesota statute, County Assessor Ginger Woodrum must assume responsibility for any overdue items.

On Tuesday, Woodrum asked the county board asked for authorization to correct deficiencies by any local assessors, to perform assessments on parcels for which the deadline was missed and to grant her deadline extensions "where reasonable and necessary."

"We do have two districts that we had some outstanding issues with. We received some of that data this morning at 9:30 a.m. We've not had a chance to review it and see how complete it is," Woodrum said.

"So we don't know yet if you've got all the information you need?" asked board chair Cal Johannsen.

"That's correct," Woodrum said, adding that her staff has questions about the data currently supplied to their office.

"Are these assessors you've had trouble with in the past?" asked county commissioner Char Christenson.

"Yes," Woodrum said.

"Under the statute, as far as correcting any deficiencies in local assessment, two things have to happen. First of all, the county assessor needs to say, 'I want to correct this' to you, and the county commissioners have to authorize the correcting those deficiencies," said County Attorney Jonathan Frieden. "This is a fail-safe effort to make sure that if things do need to be corrected, we authorization from you to do so."

"Have you talked to the township board so they are aware they are hiring someone that's not getting the work done?" Christenson asked.

Woodrum said she informed one township and another contacted her.

"Do you bill the townships?" Christenson asked.

"Yes," Frieden said. With county board authorization, the cost of making corrections can be charged to townships.

Data entry costs, on the other hand, are not addressed in any county policy. "Right now that inputting is up to the county assessor and can't be passed on, even if missing that deadline actually creates more work and ultimately has overtime as a result," Frieden said.

Johannsen inquired about the townships involved. "Do they understand how serious this is? That it could cost the taxpayers of their township a lot of money?"

At this point, Woodrum said her office can't estimate the fees that will be incurred. "It's a lot more money than what they're accustomed to with a local assessor. Our rates are inflated for a couple reasons. One, we don't want to do the assessment. And two, if we take over the assessment that means this is a time of the year we're already busy. We're going to incur overtime, hire a different contractor to finish that assessment. So the inflated cost is to cover those," she said.

"There are efficient assessors out there, so I don't want to take the private (enterprise) out of this," Christenson said.

"It's up to townships to get qualified people to get the job done. If they don't, then we're going to run into issues where we have to do the assessments," Frieden said.

Faced with possible budget increases, "it's a good incentive for townships to be diligent in who they pick," he said.

"They're just assuming the work is being done," Christenson said. "What I don't understand is, though, is that the township hires the same person back when, year after year, the person isn't getting the work done."

"Perhaps until it hits them in the pocketbook, they won't," said county commissioner Vern Massie.

The board authorized Woodrum to make corrections as needed.

Woodrum will update county policy so townships are required to enter any late data or the county will charge for the service.

"I would encourage you to do exactly what you want to do," Christenson said.

"It's frustrating to me to know there are a couple districts out there that cause our office overtime, which costs county taxpayers to subsidize the assessment of a couple districts," Woodrum said.