Point, Plover Could Lose Assessor’s Office under Governor’s Proposed Budget
*Editor’s Note: Our follow-up story, which looks at how Portage Co. is effected by possibly taking over assessing services, along with cost breakdowns of the change, will run in the March 7 print issue.
“It’s the classic example of a bad idea that’s only going to get worse.”
By Brandi Makuski
Assessing services in Stevens Point, Plover and other municipalities in Wisconsin could soon be transferred to county oversight, thanks to the proposed 2015-17 budget unveiled this month by Gov. Scott Walker.
Under the proposed budget, Wisconsin cities, villages and towns would no longer assess their own properties. Wisconsin is currently in the minority, as one of less than a dozen states where county government does not control assessing services.
Plover Administrator Dan Mahoney said he fired off a letter to the Wisconsin League of Municipalities protesting the move. Property assessment required a high level of training and skill, he said, and currently the county has no experience in this area.
“Obviously the village is real concerned with that,” Mahoney said. “We could contend that municipalities are all different in how they assess; here, property values are assessed differently than they are in Stevens Point.”
Mahoney also added the village’s current assessor did “an outstanding job…evidenced by the very low number of contestations.”
The proposed changes need to be implemented by 2017- another problem for the village, he said.
“There’s no way we can get all the new software, get all the programs, do all the entry of the data and the training, and have the system up and running by then,” Mahoney said, adding the state recently required all municipalities to update their software systems. The newly- purchased software, he said, would now go to waste.
“Who’s going to compensate the municipalities for those costs we incurred?” Mahoney asked.
The city, too, has purchased new software for assessing needs. According to Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski, the software itself isn’t terribly expensive- about $6,000- but noted the city is in the middle of a revaluation, and is also in the process of transferring existing data to that new system.
Ostrowski declined to offer his opinion on the change, but said there pros and cons to making the transition.
“Right now assessing is done at the municipal level, be it city, village or town; that’s one of the reasons they’re looking at it on the county level- you’d go from 1800 reporting municipalities to 90 or so,” he said.
Ostrowski added the change allows for some Class 1 and 2 cities in the state opt out because of larger physical size and population. Stevens Point is a Class 3 city.
Many elements to the change are still unknown, Ostrowski said, adding property taxes weren’t likely to increase because of the jurisdictional transfer. The fate of the assessing department’s two employees is “yet to be determined”, but they could become county employees as a result of the change, he said.
Logistics aside, Interim Mayor Gary Wescott said the change doesn’t make any sense.
“I’m not really sure what the state is attempting to do- it’s like the state is in search of a problem to fix when there is no problem,” Wescott said. “You have a system that works well for a city like Stevens Point or a village like Plover that already has a very professional program with integrated software and staff.”
Wescott said the change could be “very expensive” for some municipalities.
“You’re dealing with townships that all do it differently; some don’t have computers, some still use a paper system for records,” he said. “It’s just illogical. The best example I can give you is in 2003 or 2004, they did a test pilot in Kenosha County and it was a miserable failure, they abandoned it. With the diversity of our communities they couldn’t find one system that worked for all.”
Wescott added the city was “very happy” with current assessing services
“There are so many issues, so many problems we should focus on; this is not one of them. It’s the classic example of a bad idea that’s only going to get worse,” he said. “I don’t understand where this came from.”