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Equalization Board Approves Appraisal Values

By Staff | Apr 15, 2016

Bob Ehler, president, Vanguard Appraisals of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, explains the property appraisal process that went on in Rugby and Pierce County to attendees of the city of Rugby's tax equalization meeting Tuesday evening in the Otter Tail Power Company meeting room. (Ashley Berg/PCT)

The Rugby City Council, acting as the city’s tax equalization board, voted 7-1 to accept property valuations from Vanguard Appraisals at a public tax equalization meeting Tuesday evening in the Otter Tail Power Company meeting room.

Being the sole no vote, Ward 4 Councilman Terry Wentz said that the motion to accept the valuations should be based on correcting inaccurate information contained in the appraisals.

“I think this information is important,” Wentz said. “We spent a lot of money on these appraisals and I encourage people to go on that website and look. There are errors.”

Pierce County Tax Director Kelsey Siegler said that as a result of the appraisals, true and full values of residential property increased from over $106 million last year to over $121 million in 2016. Commercial property values increased by $20 million from more than $31.3 million last year. The values of agricultural land, which are determined through state figures, decreased from $299,125 to $260,610.

Siegler said taxes from one mill have increased from $6,355.22 in 2015 to $8,045.87 in 2016. The amount does not include credits, including Homestead Credits for persons 65 and older who are disabled or make less than $42,000 in income; Disabled American Veterans exemptions for those who are 50 percent or more disabled, which applies to the first $150,000 of a homestead; discretionary exemptions for new or expanding businesses; and new residence exemptions for $150,000 maximum for two years on structures only.

Siegler said that mill rates could decrease by 59.17 mills from 2015 (333.27) for Rugby, Pierce County and the Rugby Public School district based on county values. Siegler said the 59.17 was an estimate that did not include changes due to equalization and did not account for city, county and school district budget changes, Legislature-mandated changes, utilities and credits.

Bob Ehler, president of Vanguard Appraisals, said that, from the start, 23 people worked on the appraisal project. Ehler said Vanguard looked at property records with information that was missing, nonexistent and, at times, wrong.

“Your values were based on pretty much nothing,” Ehler said.

Vanguard then had crews come into the area to do property assessments. Ehler said assessors gathered information about the properties, generated replacement costs, compared to information on property sales, applied depreciation and obsolescence scales to come up with valuations.

Ehler said assessors weren’t able to get into 28 percent of homes in the area.

One Rugby resident said she felt the appraisers were doing “a lot of guessing”. She said appraisers said a double garage on her property was built in 2000 but was there when they moved in, and the rate on her property went up $91,000.

“What a majority of people are looking at is are we going to get slapped with taxes on this stuff,” she said.

Ward 1 Councilman Neil Lotvedt asked for an explanation on the mill decrease. Ehler said that if city, county and school district budgets remain the same, the mill rates would decrease. Lotvedt said the school district is one of the largest levies mills go toward, and that they could maximize their levy requests

“That, to me, is where the worry is,” Lotvedt said.

Rugby mayor Arland Geiszler said that last year 26 percent of property taxes went to the county, 37 percent went to the city, 36 percent went to the school district and 1 percent went to the state, and said it was important to know each entity’s budget.

“It’s prudent that each entity controls the dollar amounts in their budgets,” Geiszler said.

Ward 3 Councilman Jim Hoffert said residents should be involved in city, county, and school district processes.

“I think we should be careful not to villainize tax entities,” Hoffert said.

Pierce County will hold an equalization meeting in June.

Property information can be found online at pierce.northdakotaassessors.com.

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