CHARLES TOWN – For the seventh straight year, state officials have found deficiencies in the way the Jefferson County assessor’s office runs its operations. None of the state’s other 54 counties has been found to have such problems for so long.
Jefferson and 45 other counties have been cited by the state Property Valuation and Training Procedures Commission for deficiencies in their operations that affect property values.
Besides Jefferson, the commission found just three other counties – Barbour, Grant and Monongalia – have had problems for five years or more. Jefferson’s neighboring counties, Berkeley and Morgan, were among the nine counties without deficiencies.
Under a new state law, Jefferson’s school system could lose state funding because of shortcomings in the assessor’s office, according to commission member Cal Kent, the vice president of Business and Economic Research at Marshall University.
Now Angie Banks – who has worked in the Jefferson County Assessor’s Office for nearly two decades and has served as assessor since 2009, having won re-election just last month – must put together a written report explaining how the county is addressing the problems outlined by the state.
Banks also has been summoned to attend next month’s meeting of the oversight commission.
“There’s always concern when someone out of compliance for that long a period,” Kent said. “She’s going to have to come in and give an explanation on what she’s going to be doing to take care of the problems.”
The commission recently mailed out letters to affected county assessor’s offices that outline the deficiencies found in operations for the 2011 tax year. County commissions and county school boards also were made aware of the problems, Kent said.
New this year, Kent said, is the state’s ability to cut state school aid to counties found to not be assessing property at the required 60 percent of its fair market value.
“The Legislature created this mechanism several years ago, but this will be the first year for actual (funding) reductions,” Kent said. “The idea is to get counties to stop underassessing property. The state wanted to put some pressure on the counties to make sure valuations are up to the appropriate level.”
In an interview Wednesday, Banks said the state’s report focused on 2011 while her office has just finished its 2013 work. “The state is looking at the past,” she said. “The requirements they’re asking for we’ve done for 2012 and we’ve done for 2013 – there will not be a problem.”
Banks said since taking office three years ago, she introduced many changes to the office. “We’ve made things more efficient,” she said. “Once I became aware of the new requirements, I have made sure we are meeting everything the state is asking from us.”
Across the state. deficiencies noted by the commission covered rules related to real estate (computer entry, validation of sales data, uniformity between sold and unsold properties); mapping; and evaluation to ensure that the appraisal-to-sales ratio is up to standard.
The majority of counties cited by the state had just one or two years of deficiencies. Kent said that all have been given until Jan. 7 to provide the commission with detailed written plans for moving into compliance.
Jefferson is among the 14 counties asked to not only file a written plan but also to send a representative to the commission’s Jan. 16 meeting in Flatwoods.
“Statewide, the biggest problem that counties have is that they haven’t kept up in all the changes in the real estate market,” said Kent, a mass valution expert and certified assessor with the International Association of Assessing Officers who has been on the commission for six years. “State law requires that every three years the assessors have to bring all assessments up to date.”
Kent said that while he isn’t interested in making excuses for the problems in the Jefferson County assessor’s office, he is aware the county in recent years has been home to great fluctuations in housing and land prices.
“You’ve had such a wild real estate market there,” he said. “It’s got to be really difficult for them to keep up, particularly with number of new houses and parcels. It may be that there’s more there than meets the eye.”