To say that Bannock County officials would like a do-over regarding the countywide property reassessment is probably the understatement of the century.
The outcome of the reassessment done earlier this year on all properties in the county is that people are actively trying to recall Bannock County Assessor Sheri Davies and county commissioners Terrel “Ned” Tovey, Steve Brown and Ernie Moser.
It’s hard to imagine a worse aftermath for the countywide reassessment, something that other counties throughout the state are able to do without the type of controversy that has plagued our community this summer.
What Bannock County has endured regarding the countywide reassessment has essentially been a perfect storm of government incompetency and missteps that started in the Assessor’s Office and grew to engulf the county commissioners and Idaho Tax Commission.
The storm started with the fact that for the fourth time since 2006 Bannock County elected a new assessor, Davies, who came into the job as green as green could be.
The county’s decision to switch to new computer software in the Assessor’s Office during the same time that a new assessor took office set the stage for problems, especially when that software apparently wasn’t compatible with other software used in the Assessor’s Office.
County officials then received a letter in March from the Idaho Tax Commission which they interpreted as the Tax Commission telling them that the property assessments in Bannock County were out of compliance with state standards and unless this was soon fixed the state would intervene.
At this point a meeting or at least some communication between county officials and the Tax Commission would have helped clarify matters but that didn’t happen.
Instead Bannock County officials felt the state was on the verge of conducting its own reassessment of all properties in the county, so immediate action was needed.
The Assessor’s Office embarked on a comprehensive countywide reassessment with a rookie assessor calling the shots and software issues unresolved.
County officials say a forensic audit on a contracted appraiser for the Assessor’s Office added more complications at the Assessor’s Office during this time frame, adding to that perfect storm.
The end result of all this is that the countywide reassessment, something other counties throughout the state conduct without incident, was badly botched.
This first became evident to the public when the notices informing county property owners of their new assessments were mailed out 18 days late, arriving on the date listed on the notices as the deadline for appealing those new assessments.
It was bad enough that many county residents’ property assessments had skyrocketed because of the countywide reassessment, but the fact people seemingly had no time to appeal the new assessments created a countywide panic.
Bannock County residents detonated and more than 3,000 of them appealed their new assessments after the appeals deadline was extended.
To put that into perspective, previous Bannock County reassessments resulted in less than 20 appeals. Poor communication or perhaps poor cooperation between the assessor, county commissioners and Tax Commission created a situation in which it appeared the Tax Commission was publicly rejecting everything county officials were saying about the reassessment.
For example, when Bannock County officials said the Idaho Tax Commission had told them the county was out of compliance with state assessment standards, the Tax Commission said the county had never been out of compliance.
The Tax Commission could have better articulated its response because what it should have said was that the results of this year’s countywide reassessment would determine the compliance issue.
That message didn’t come through until the meeting between county officials and the Tax Commission last week at the Bannock County Courthouse, during which the Tax Commission said that thanks to the 2019 countywide reassessment Bannock County is in compliance with the state requirement that property assessments in the county reflect true market values.
Obviously there are many Bannock County residents who would disagree with the Tax Commission regarding the true market value issue. What also helped motivate many Bannock County residents to sign the petitions to recall Davies and the county commissioners is the fact many people’s phone calls to the Assessor’s Office about their new assessments went unreturned.
And when faced with thousands of assessment appeals from county residents the county responded with blanket assessment reductions that made the reassessment look like even more of a sham.
Then there were the 100-plus properties that had assessments that were so screwed up that the county commissioners reverted those assessed values back to 2018 levels. The countywide property reassessment of 2019 could have obviously been a lot less controversial and painful for the community had county officials done some things differently.
One easy step would have been to hold public meetings educating county residents about the reassessment process starting back in the spring. Such meetings would have prepared county residents for a reassessment that would reflect the fact that property values in Bannock County are on the upturn.
Better communication with the Tax Commission so that county officials and the Tax Commission were on the same page when it came to communicating with the public and media would have also lessened the reassessment heartburn felt by county residents.
If the Assessor’s Office had recognized the problems with the reassessment sooner and communicated those to the county commission sooner and more accurately, we feel the county would have handled things much differently. The decision to go with new Assessor’s Office computer software during Davies’ first year as assessor and during a countywide reassessment proved to be ill-fated, to put it politely.
Inexplicably the county did nothing beforehand that would counter the feeling among many if not most county property owners that their new assessments were way higher than what they could ever receive for their properties in the current real estate market.
This doomed the public perception of the reassessment and everything else took the public’s outrage to new levels. All of this has resulted in the perfect storm that has left four top Bannock County officials facing the very real threat of recall.
There’s not much of a silver lining to any of this except that if Davies, Tovey, Brown and Moser survive the recall threat, they will surely not mishandle such an important task as a countywide reassessment in the future.
Do they regret how the reassessment was handled? We are certain they do.
But that’s cold comfort now — for them and the rest of us.