Douglas County officials admitted that "a number of mistakes occurred in the appraisal process" in a three-page statement released late Friday.
Still, County Commission Chairman Louie McElhaney said today that he did not think the statement would satisfy all taxpayers, many of whom attended a commission meeting Wednesday night to voice their displeasure with the appraisal system.
"We're trying to get more information out to the people," he said. "We know we have a lot of problems and mistakes. What bothers us is that we have not found all the mistakes."
McElhaney said that a major problem was the county's inability to pull up more recent information on property valuations. Instead, the appraisal computers used old information, meaning that people who had problems with their valuations in 1989 are have similar problems now.
"IT'S BAD when they had to do it once," McElhaney said of valuation appeals. "It's a disaster when they have to do it twice."
The statement, called for by the county commission, explains the appraisal procedure and lists three major mistakes made in the valuation of county real estate for 1991:
"Where the county had accepted independent appraisals from landowners (from) 1989 (to) 1991, those values were not used in valuing the same property in 1991. The county is presently working to identify each of those parcels and make the appropriate adjustments without the necessity of an appeal by the property owner."
"Where the county had adjusted values in 1989 or 1990 after the submission of sales contracts for the property, the property was not valued the same in 1991."
"Although over 300 adjustments in value were made before the mailing of the change of value notices to correct obvious errors, a number of mistakes were not detected. These included mistakes in recording property data, failures to recognize previously corrected data and actual mistakes in entering data into the computer."
THE STATEMENT contained the names of McElhaney, County Administrator Chris McKenzie and County Appraiser Don Gordon. McKenzie had noted the mistakes pertaining to the omission of independent appraisal values and not catching mistakes on the majority of the notices in a story in Friday's Journal-World.
Another part of the statement reviewed the process used by the county in setting the 1991 property values. The county relied on sales data from 1988 through 1990 to set values for most residential real estate, according to the statement.
"The updated and verified information on vacant land sales in recently developed subdivisions was used to set the land component for residential properties in existing subdivisions with similar houses and features," the statement read. "As a result, it is common for parcels within the same subdivision which are similar in size to have the same value."
THE TOTAL appraised value of most residential properties, according to the statement, was determined by comparing each parcel to "comparable" properties within the same neighborhood. This step came after determining the land value of an improved lot. State law requires that the value of the lot be reported separately from the value of any structures on the lot.
The separate listing of land and structure had angered many people who attended the commission meeting. A common complaint voiced Wednesday night was that land prices had increased drastically while structure prices either increased moderately or decreased.
The statement went on to say that "where the comparable properties chosen by the mass appraisal program had somewhat different features than the property being valued, adjustments were made. The value set on the residential structure (or improvement) was then determined by subtracting the land value from the total value for the residential parcel."
UNDER STATE LAW, reappraisal of property must be undertaken annually, and property must be physically inspected once every four years.
The county also reviewed in the statement the five steps it was taking to address the mistakes.
These steps are: the expansion of office hours for telephone inquiries; the expediting of property value adjustments that had been made in 1989 and 1990 based on appraisals or sales contracts; changes in internal procedures to avoid similar problems in the future; the county commission convening as the Board of Equalization to conduct an internal audit of the appraisal system; and the call for an external audit by the Property Valuation Division of the Kansas Department of Revenue, which may get started earlier than the two weeks previously reported.
McKenzie said that people should keep calling the number on their change of value notice because many problems have been resolved over the phone. He added that if people have trouble getting through, they should send a copy of their notice back to the county with pertinent information about their problem.
McElhaney said he would spend more time in the appraiser's office learning the system. He has suggested that next year's notices be sent out in stages to see if any problems are found before all the notices are mailed. One problem with this plan, he acknowledged, is that it would stagger the appeals process, which may not conform to state law.