Tax assessor seeks OK on $500K for hired help

Published 11:29 am Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Newly elected Warren County Tax Assessor Angela Brown has proposed hiring outside help to reappraise a quarter of Warren County’s real property the next four years, a plan that could cost taxpayers more than $500,000.

Brown asked supervisors Monday to hire Louisville, Miss.-based appraiser Wes Kight and Associates LLC to do state-mandated land roll updates for $135,000 a year through fiscal 2015 — making for a contract worth $520,000. A second proposal to hire Florence-based Statewide Appraisal Services Inc. to review the personal property roll is worth $64,000 over two years.

Both told the board an outside hand was needed because indexes used to calculate field appraisals were out of date, causing all real property to be undervalued for tax purposes.

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“You all really haven’t done a proper update since 1998,” Kight said as the board met informally Monday. “The method used is wrong.”

The board meets formally a week from today and could take up the request then.

Indexes used to calculate values for features such as swimming pools, service station canopies and other types of “out-buildings” reflect a $105,000 baseline instead of $150,000, as per current Department of Revenue manuals — a situation remedied in the past by market adjustments and requests of the state for more time to update the index, Brown said.

As a result, all such ancillary structures in Warren County are undervalued by about 33 percent, said Kight, who counted reappraisals in Grenada, Kemper, Montgomery, Winston, Newton and Humphreys counties among his experience.

By law, 25 percent of a county’s parcels must be reappraised to achieve an updated roll in four years. Last year’s review took place mainly in central Vicksburg, from downtown to areas between Halls Ferry Road and Indiana Avenue.

Brown hired three employees last week to coordinate homestead filings and process property appraisal figures after all office staff except for Brown retired, quit or were fired since her Nov. 8 election. Brown outpolled three opponents, including former field appraiser Ben Luckett, one of three dismissed. Until this year, five of seven employees under the assessor appraised real, personal, industrial properties and visited sites.

A third proposal before the board is to reimburse Humphreys County Tax Assessor Margaret Parks and three others from her office $1,600 for 32 hours of work over four days last week to tutor the first three new employees. Brown and County Administrator John Smith told supervisors reimbursements are legal as “technical assistance” if payments are made directly to each individual and not the office, according to assurances from the Office of the State Auditor.

An additional hire is Gary Neill to head the mapping department. Brown said Neill has more than 20 years experience, including Hinds County’s mapping department, making him Brown’s third hire from Hinds.

The 2011-12 budget was adopted Sept. 6, before the fall election. The office’s allocation was $321,986, up by $6,300 due to higher mandated retirement contributions from counties.

Appraising real property is contracted out by 53 of the state’s 82 counties, according to the Mississippi Department of Revenue.