Without a real estate appraiser, county revenue flow could suffer, McCollough tells quorum court

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

A prolonged tense, but controlled, meeting of the quorum court resulted in justices of the peace agreeing to go against their own policy of no new hirings in approving a part-time real estate appraiser for Assessor Zelah McCollough's office.

The situation was one of push comes to shove, as the county's revenue flow starts with appraisals, and McCollough currently has no employees familiar with appraising real property.

The county has contracted for real estate appraisal services for several years, but the current contractor is leaving, with McCollough holding three checks to assure fulfillment of obligations through the end of November.

That, however, left the county with no employee qualified to do real estate appraisals or work deeds in December.

Mary Glisson, chairman of the county equalization board, lobbied on McCollough's behalf, noting the difficulty of the past three years as the entire county has undergone reappraisal. Carroll County is classified as a fast-growing county, and therefore must undergo reappraisal of all property every three years.

JP Eva Reeve recommended that the discussion take place in executive session, but County Prosecutor Tony Rogers stated that would not be in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, as specific employees were not being addressed.

McCollough stated that the new consultant is reluctant to hire the employees of the previous contractor without having a signed contract with the county in hand. Under the previous contracted service, one employee did deeds and another handled appraisals.

McCollough also noted that the state no longer allows reappraisal funds to cover payroll for anyone who works deeds.

She outlined her timeline for both personal property and real estate, noting that duties of the new appraisal firm, beginning in January, will include measuring and appraising new construction, confirming data information on existing properties and verifying sales between November and June 30; sending notices of appraisal that are effected for the current year in July; and answering questions on appraisals, and preparing for equalization board hearings between July and September.

JPs Reeve and Jim Wheeler pressed for suggestions from McCollough regarding cross-training, with McCollough appearing at a loss for words. She did, however, say that to fully learn the job of real estate appraisals would take from three months to a year.

It was noted that Boone County, with a comparable population base as Carroll, has five people in the assessor's office, but Boone also has a county-wide general fund sales tax.

It is believed that Carroll County is the only county in the state of its size and class to not have a general purpose sale tax.

Because of the county's tight financial situation after voter defeat of the county sales tax issue earlier this month, the quorum court agreed that it could not see hiring two people for the assessor's office.

Reeve volunteered to document the process, with plans to implement cross-training between all of the assessor's employees. The court voted to fund a part-time deed person for the rest of 2003, with cross training and collection of process analysis data.

The vote to hire the part-time worker for the balance of the year passed with Reeve and Wheeler voting no, and three justices of the peace absent.

As the county moves toward 2004 facing a bottle-neck in cash flow that could seize up in April, preliminary budget figures for 2004 show elimination of funding for 911 re-addressal, the county's capital improvement and maintenance account, state police, and the 911/Public Safety Communications Center.

Other significant reductions include a 77 percent cut for juvenile supervision; 71 percent from juvenile court; 66 percent from the county airport; 51 percent from the Western District Courthouse; 31 percent from grant-in-aid; 29 percent from the county judge; 28 percent from the office of emergency management. In dollar figures, those cuts range from $138,000, to $3,300.

Anticipated increases are seen for the Eastern District Courthouse, the county election commission, the circuit judge's office, the public defender; the county drug fund; court recorder's fund; county treasurer's automation fund; and the county collector's fund. Those increases can largely be attributed to the increase in criminal cases.

Fourteen positions have been eliminated from the 2004 budget, and there is no funding for maintenance and repairs for the physical plants.

As various elected county officials have nearly depleted their state-mandated automation funds to help the county through its present financial squeeze, that source of revenue is depleted and cannot be relied on in the coming year.

The cash flow situation is so tight, both Reeve and Treasurer Cindy Collins anticipate a crisis in April which could result in layoffs of employees and other cutbacks.

The quorum court voted unanimously to encourage all department heads to be as frugal as possible for the rest of the year, avoiding all unnecessary expenses, in an attempt to shore up carry-over funds into 2004.

In other business the justices of the peace:

  • Approved the levying of county, municipal and school tax millages for 2003.

  • Approved the levying of a voluntary contribution millage of .6 mils for the Berryville cemetery.

  • Appropriated $6,283, received from the state, to cover overtime in the sheriff's office and county jail.

  • Appropriated $5,000 from the county's general fund to the sheriff's office drug fund.

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