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Board votes no re-valuation

By NICK NARIGON

Iowa County property owners will not be subject to property re-valuation any time in the near future.

The Iowa County Conference Board voted 2-1 Tuesday, March 9, to approve a tax levy of $0.51 per $1,000 of taxable valuation for the Iowa County Assessor’s Office.

The board denied an additional increase of $0.21 that would help fund an $800,000 re-valuation project to be completed by January 2014.

A crowd of about 20 attended the March 9 meeting to protest the hiring of Vanguard Appraisals to undertake the re-valuation project.

Victor City Council member Lynn DeNeve, who was in the audience, said if the county were to raise taxes to re-valuate the property, the project itself would in turn raise taxes even further.

“This is a backdoor tax increase,” DeNeve said. “The amount of money the county is going to bring in over this tax increase is going to be outstanding. They are going to raise our taxes to start the re-valuation, and then when it is all said and done, the higher end values are going to go up, which will be a tax increase. We are going to get taxed twice and the citizens of the county are going to be the ones to pay for it, twice.”

Prior to the budget hearing, the conference board approved the hire of Linda Griggs as the new Iowa County Assessor. DeNeve said his suggestion is that the board let Griggs bring the office to full staff and train the employees. In a year from now, DeNeve said the conference board will have a better idea if the county needs to hire Vanguard to re-valuate the property, or if the assessor’s office can do the project in-house.

“Let’s get things back on track in the office, let’s get the right employees hired and trained, sent to school, then reevaluate this in a couple of years instead of just throwing everything at it all at once,” DeNeve said.

English Valleys School Board member and conference board member Terri Riegel suggested the board look at building up revenue to pay for the project over the course of several years, rather than raising taxes right away. She said school boards and cities are also raising taxes, hitting the taxpayers pretty hard.

“It’s not just this 21 cents, which isn’t that bad in of itself. It’s when you add it on top of everything else that is going on. It’s tough financial times anyway,” Riegel said. “What is our bang for our buck for doing this county-wide assessment now?”

Iowa Valley School Board member Dennis Roberts, who is also a member of the conference board, said he would like to see Griggs be able to organize her department and look at the areas that need attention, and then look at conducting the re-valuation down the road.

“I think the timing is just wrong right now with all of the cutbacks,” Roberts said. “The schools are hurting. The taxpayers are hurting. I just don’t think now is the right time. I’m not saying it doesn’t need to be done, but I just don’t think it needs to be done right now.”

The assessor’s levy is currently set at $0.34 per $1,000  valuation and will raise another $0.17 effective July 1.

Conference Board member and Williamsburg Mayor Frank Murphy said he voted to raise the levy to $0.51 in order to allow new Iowa County Assessor Linda Griggs to fully staff her office.

“I believe we need to do something and I think this next year will allow Linda to look at her options,” Murphy said.

Griggs said the raise in taxes will pay for the salary of one more full-time employee and an increase in training. Griggs said she will hire a deputy assessor, a position that has not been filled in over a year. In addition, one full-time employee is retiring in two months, and Griggs said that position will be filled. In total, the assessor’s office will have a new assessor, two new employees and two employees who combined have less than three years of experience.

Griggs, who has been the acting assessor since November 2009, said after reviewing the county’s property values with Vanguard Appraisals, it was determined that the county’s property values were not in sync.

Bob Ehler, president of Vanguard Appraisals, said  the purpose of a reappraisal is to equalize values to make sure every property owner is treated fairly.

“The idea is not to raise anybody’s taxes or lower anybody’s taxes. The assessor’s job is to have an accurate value on everybody’s property so they are taxed fairly,” Ehler said.

In general, he said if a re-valuation is done, one-third of the taxpayers would see a decrease, one-third would see no change and one-third would see an increase.

Ehler said the statistics show values are artificially low in Iowa County.

“This could actually hurt economic development, because if the values are too low, then your millage rate will be higher. A high millage rate is a sign of high taxes to anybody who is looking to do development,” Ehler said. “That is one of the important factors to consider. Not to raise taxes, but to have the values up where they should be so the millage rate that corresponds will be accurate.”

During the February Conference Board meeting, Griggs said it was her belief a re-valuation for residential property had never been done in Iowa County.

During the  March 9 meeting, Jerry McKusker, a former employee in the assessor’s office, said all property in Iowa County was re-valuated between 1984 and 1987. McKusker provided property cards from that time period showing that his residential property had been re-valuated in 1985.

When it came time to vote on the assessor’s budget for FY11, none of the members of the conference board were in favor of raising the levy to $0.71 to pay for the re-valuation project. In total, eight members of the conference board voted for a levy of $0.51 and three members voted against the levy, saying they were in favor of leaving the levy at $0.34.

The Iowa County Conference board is made up of three factions: the Iowa County Supervisors, a member from each school board in the county and the mayor of each city in the county. Each faction receives one vote. Two of the three mayors present, Marengo Mayor Joe Seye and Victor Mayor Pro-tem Marla Faga voted against raising the assessor’s tax levy to $0.51.

Faga said the raise in taxes would be a hardship on a lot of people, herself included. Now is not the time to raise taxes, she said.

“I know a lot of people who have lost their jobs and have had their hours cut back. I know a lot of farmers, it would be a hardship on them,” Faga said.

Iowa County Supervisor Chair Linda Yoder also voted against raising the taxes to $0.51, even after stating at the beginning of the meeting, “You can’t run your department on 28 cents or 33 cents. No, we can’t do that.”

UPDATED March 16, 2010 1:37 PM

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