County property reassessment delayed by software training

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By Stan Welch

Reassessment of property is always a contentious issue; a fact that was proved once again at Tuesday’s County Council meeting. County Assessor Mike Freeman reported to the Council that the reassessment of the property in the county, totaling more than one hundred fifteen thousand parcels, would be completed in time for the mailing out of the tax notices later this year.

Freeman reported that of those parcels, more than seventy five per cent would probably see an increase in value, although many will remain below market value even after reassessment. One reason for that is the fact that Act 388, passed by the General Assembly in 2006, following the last reassessment, caps any increase at fifteen percent.

Freeman said that despite the large percentage of properties facing increases, they should be small ones, and the result of the reassessment should be essentially revenue neutral; in other words, the county’s coffers shouldn’t see much benefit.

Also at issue among the Council is the temporary abandonment of a new software that Freeman, along with several other assessors in the state, have been working to develop. As a result of two significant hip injuries to the employee whose supervision and expertise were critical to that software’s installation, Freeman said that he had to abandon those efforts in order to get the reassessment finished.

The efforts to complete and test the software have caused a delay in the reassessment, which was slated for 2011. State law allows for a one time delay. But Chairman Francis Crowder seemed both surprised and upset when Freeman said that the reassessment would be performed with the old software.

Councilman Moore ratcheted up the tension in the room when he asked Freeman if he had been instructed to slow down the reassessment process; a charge he adamantly denied.

“Let me make this perfectly clear to every one here. I have been here since 1993 and nobody has ever tried to influence my job, or tell me to change a rate or slow things down. Nobody.” (Emphasis provided) Moore said he just wanted to ask the question.

He also asked why Freeman didn’t hire someone to replace the injured supervisor in order to complete the new software. “This was the person who knew both systems, Mr. Moore. It wasn’t a matter of just bringing someone in off the street and getting them up to speed.”

Finally the Council accepted Freeman’s report and moved on; this time to proposed changes in the purchasing ordinance. Councilwoman Cindy Wilson reeled off a laundry list of past grievances which she said proved the need for tighter controls.

The list included land deals, as well as projects in which the contractors involved went broke during or shortly after the projects, and were found not to have the required bonds to protect the county. She mentioned the main county library, the Belton library, and the Michelin Boulevard road project, which continues to plague the county.

She was quickly challenged by Councilwoman Gracie Floyd who asked for details on the listed projects. “I had no idea such things were going on. That sounds terrible.” She tried to continue talking as Ms. Wilson responded but Chairman Crowder ruled her out of order, saying that Wilson had the floor.

In the end, two minor amendments were made to the ordinance, involving the schedule for opening bids, and the location of the lock box where the bids are kept until the opening.

At the start of the meeting, the Council passed a resolution recognizing Councilman Ken Waters for his 35 years of service in the USAF. Waters recently retired from the AF Reserve.