Box Butte County Commissioners Confront Assessor Regarding Letter to Rural Citizens

Box Butte County Commissioners Doug Hashman, Susan Lore, and Mike McGinnis reorganized during the first meeting of 2020. Naming McGinnis as Chairman of the Board. 

The Board of Commissioners for Box Butte County conducted the first meeting for 2020 this past Monday, January 6th at 9 a.m. in the Commissioners Room on the second floor of the County Courthouse.

As it was the first meeting of the year, annual reorganization of the Board was conducted. Commissioner Mike McGinnis was elected Chairman, Susan Lore remains vice-chair and Doug Hashman moved to third chair. There’s really no rhyme or reason for the reorganization of the board but typically they just alternate however Lore elected to remain at vice-chair and thanked McGinnis for stepping in. 

Committee appointments were adopted as printed as the each Commissioner felt comfortable with the various boards that they each serve on.

The Board voted in favor of retaining each of the appointed positions: Barb Keegan-Road Superintendent, Cody Renkoski-Weed Superintendent, Mike Johnson-Zoning Administrator, and Dennis Laughlin-Veterans Service Officer. It was noted that the board will continue to requesting quarterly reports from each office excluding Keegan who provides a report at each meeting.  

It was also noted that Scott Bosse’ would remain County Surveyor on an as needed basis.

Also staying the same will be the banks as depositories, newspapers, website, radio stations, surveyors, and holidays.

For bank depositories the list of banks were approved with the exception of Western Heritage Federal Credit Union until further clarification. County Attorney Terry Curtiss will be checking into the account at WHCU.

The Board discussed the official county newspapers. The Commissioners unanimously felt that The Ledger should be the County’s one and only newspaper. However it was decided to keep the Alliance Times-Herald as a possible newspaper as some legal notifications pertained to Alliance residences more such as notifications regarding Alliance businesses. 

There was one change that was made from 2019. Regular monthly meetings will still be conducted at 9 a.m. and were set to the 1st and 3rd Monday’s as was the case last year. However, there are a few months where the first meeting will be held later allowing for payroll. February 5th, March 4th, June 3rd, August 5th, and November 4th. The second meeting in June will be on June 22 to allow for fiscal year-end claims.

Meetings that fall on a holiday will be conducted the follow business day.  

The Board also noted that the One- and Six-Year Road Hearing will be conducted by the Commissioners along with Keegan at the Courthouse on February 10 at 2 p.m. 

The meeting then continued as usual with the meeting minutes from previous meeting approved, correspondence read, Board reports discussed, and office reports from the Clerk of the District Court and County Clerk/Election Officer.

Board of Equalization was opened at 10 a.m. and Human Services Inc. was declared tax exempt.

County Assessor Michelle Robinson presented the correction book for approval with two corrections - one for personal property and one for real estate. Both corrections were signed.

From there things turned a little heated as Commissioner Hashman confronted Robinson on the tax evaluation letters that were sent out to rural residents for upcoming evaluations.

Hashman said, “The bottom of your letter states, ‘Lack of your participation in filing out the questionnaire will result in assumption of information such as a complete full finish basement with three plumbing fixtures, to account for a bathroom; or increase the condition of the house, for example, from fair to average or from average to good.’”

“That’s illegal!” said Curtiss.

“I think that’s harassment. Is that your way of doing things or does that come from the state?” asked Hashman.

“It is a way that we need to complete our review process because if people don’t either let us in or they don’t respond to the questionnaire then we don’t know what has happened to the property,” Robinson said. “So then as a way to complete the process we’ll do that. Typically what that does with improving a condition or adding a basement finish it will increase the value and then the person will have the opportunity to file a protest. Then upon the protest hearing, they say they don’t have a finished basement and they let us in to review the property then we can get that changed. It’s just common practice that a lot of assessors do. It’s not harassment.”

“Sure it is,” Hashman said.

“I’m going to give you an example of why that is so unjust!” said Curtiss. “You take an elderly lady who gets a survey like that and doesn’t know what to do with it and then she does and you can’t do anything about that. I had that happen two years ago. You have people that are not competent to deal with those things so you make evidentiary assumptions about property that you have no basis for, that’s not good appraisal practice. And it’s grossly unjust for somebody like that. That’s why you shouldn’t be doing that.”  

“It would make more sense to say that they did NOT made any improvements to their house and leave it alone that it is to grossly estimate that they finished the basement with three fixtures in a bathroom or raise the condition of the house just because you didn’t get out there and evaluate it,” Hashman said.  

Curtiss suggested that Robinson check with building permits as a way of keeping track of construction updates.

“You’re dealing with people that may not be competent, may not be here, may not get their mail… To make an assumption to change values when you have no idea if they even got the survey in the first place, or if the mail didn’t happen to get there that day, to me I don’t think you have the authority to do that and I don’t think that should be the practice that the Assessor follows to try to force people to comply with their desire to inspect the property.

Hashman added that unless Robinson could prove that it was standard policy to do that then he would be filing a complaint with the Property Tax Administrator.

“I consider that harassment of Box Butte County Citizens,” Hashman said.

Lore questioned what percentage of questionnaires are returned to the Assessor’s office and whether or not her office does drive by inspections.

“The reason we do the questionnaires more frequently is because we are doing the appraisals ourselves in office. We don’t have an appraisal company to go out and do the door to door for us. The questionnaires help us to determine if we do need to go to the property. If the questionnaire does indicate that there have been changes then that’s when we go out to the property and review that property.

The questionnaire helps us eliminate the ones that have not changed so we don’t have to go out to those properties and waste that gas trip out there. So to answer your question, we don’t do a drive by unless the questionnaire indicates that there has been a change, or Pictometry indicates that there has been a change.

“We always took two people in a car and checked properties as we went along. Some had changes and some didn’t,” said Lore. “Sometimes people don’t understand what you’re asking or the effect that not returning a questionnaire will have on their value.”

“I will take your suggestions to heart and I will adjust the letter for the next reappraisal process,” Robinson said.

Hashman made a suggestion to not change the condition of a property if a questionnaire is not returned.

“One of these days somebody is going to file harassment,” Hashman added. “And it would eliminate a lot of protests.”

“I will take it under advisement,” Robinson noted. “I disagree that it’s harassment.”

Following the closing of BOE, County Treasurer Valery Bell announced that an Employee Appreciation Dinner will be Saturday, Feb 1st. County employees need to RSVP to the Treasurer’s office by the 16th of January.

The Box Butte County Extension Board had one opening. They received one application and the Board appointed Shane Dye to the Extension Board.

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