John Connaughton

John Connaughton

I feel that I need to weigh in on this Bannock County tax assessment issue, because taxpayers deserve to hear the truth from someone. I recently retired from the Bannock County Assessor’s Office after 11 years as a state certified property tax appraiser.

They may have had some computer problems in that office, but the main problem is that they cut us off from using our old appraisal system and forced this Proval system onto us when it really wasn’t ready to go.

In order for the new Proval appraisal program to work, a great amount of data needs to be entered. All of the county’s parcels (approximately 43,000) need to be entered from scratch with new sketches and property features, which hasn’t been done.

All the sales data need to be entered, which hasn’t been done. In addition, cost tables needed to be updated and analysis done for cost modifiers and market depreciation, which hadn’t been done when I left (two weeks before notices were supposed to go out).

Management should have waited until the new system was ready and the bugs worked out before pulling the rug out from under our old system. This would have provided a smoother and more accurate transition for not only the appraisers, but for the taxpaying public as well.

I was waving the red warning flag in there for quite some time and was actually called into the assessor’s office and reprimanded for questioning how properties were going to be valued this year.

The new assessor didn’t care to listen to the concerns and opinions of an experienced appraiser. So bottom line, the Proval system wasn’t really used to value all the properties.

I find it interesting that they are calling this a “countywide reassessment” That term wasn’t used at all while I was there. Actually, less than 20 percent of the county’s properties were physically visited by the Assessor’s Office for this year.

What they did was just a countywide percentage indexing, which looks to be quite inaccurate. My personal land went up 50 percent this year; however, my neighborhood on the west bench was just assessed for the 2017 year and my land was raised then, too. Land has not increased 50 percent in the last two years!

And in this “countywide reassessment,” equity was not a consideration. It looks like they applied this blanket percentage index to all properties regardless of current value or when they were last assessed. Properties that were last assessed five years ago appear to have received the same percentage increase as ones done just last year.

One area with some extreme inequity is the Indian Hills subdivision. To summarize: Last year for 2018, then Assessor Stein had the contracted commercial appraiser assess the Indian Hills residential sub.

They lowered the land values from $34,500 to $30,000 (a 13 percent decrease in an increasing market) in phases 1,2,4,5,&6 (hundreds of properties) For some reason they left the land value at $34,500 in phase 3. These values should not have been lowered and they created inequity because they didn’t do all the phases equally.

I reported this last year during the BOE and nothing was done. Again this year I have reported to the commissioners, assessor and the state tax commission. Still nothing has been done to correct this. All they did this year is to index the land (improvements too).

They indexed the land up 50 percent (like they have done with everyone I guess) Phases 1,2,4,5 &6 went from $30,000 to $45,000 and phase 3 from $34,500 to $51,750. They have still left the inequity in place, in fact making it greater! And to compound the problem further, these mistakenly lowered values were most likely used in their ratio study to justify the large percentage increase they gave to the rest of the city!

The Assessor and the commissioners had an opportunity to correct this again during BOE time, but they chose to do nothing! You folks in Indian Hills 3rd should be very happy that your property is valued higher than your neighbors and you get to pay more tax too, for the 2nd year in a row.

There are other areas too, which I have reported, with similar inequity that they didn’t correct but just indexed making the inequity worse. A true reassessment should have addressed these issues. I don’t have the time or space to write a book right now, maybe later.

Lastly, instead of working on updating Proval and working on valuing property accurately, the assessor thought it was more important to have the office staff rearrange the entire office, moving desks, cabinets, files, etc.

And she had the appraisers trade desks with each other, moving files, computers, etc. in mid-May (2 weeks before notices were supposed to go out). This was done for no reason and was extremely disruptive at a critical time in our office. Maybe that’s why notices didn’t make it out on time?

John Connaughton of Pocatello is a retired state certified property tax appraiser for Bannock County.