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Archive for Monday, July 6, 1992

APPRAISER DOUBTS OFFICE WILL BE RE-AUDITED

July 6, 1992

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A prominent legislator and a state official believe a Shawnee County judge's order should lead to a county-by-county auditing of values put on property for tax purposes.

But Douglas County Appraiser Marion Johnson said he assumes that last year's audit of his department means the county has a "good idea of what needs to be done to bring Douglas County up to the level the state says we should be at and where we want to be at."

Rep. Joan Wagnon, D-Topeka, chairwoman of the House Taxation Committee, and David Cunningham, state property valuation director, said last week that they do not think the state should reappraise all property across the state. They said the state should try to isolate problems in individual counties.

``I think that's the only way you can do it,'' Cunningham said. ``We need to go into each county and look at them.''

THEY MADE their comments the same day Gov. Joan Finney said she does not believe another statewide reappraisal is necessary. She said the Department of Revenue, to which Cunningham's division belongs, will work quickly to solve appraisal problems.

District Judge Terry Bullock has ordered the department to draft by Feb. 28, 1993, a plan for making the appraisal of property for tax purposes uniform across the state.

Bullock agreed with Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan that current values violate the state constitution's provision requiring uniform and equal appraisals. Stephan sued the Department of Revenue last month.

Johnson said he thought the audits being discussed would be similar to what the county encountered in May and June 1991.

"They would send people in to look at various aspects of the office to make sure you're following procedures and meeting all the guidelines," he said.

UNEQUAL appraisals mean that one property owner might pay more taxes than another who owns similar property. In theory, an appraisal figure is supposed to represent fair market value, but legally, the appraisal must be within 10 percent of the fair market value.

``The problem is that they've got pockets (of bad values),'' Mrs. Wagnon said. ``Why do all the stuff that's done right? Why not fix the stuff that's done wrong? That's a lot cheaper.''

The 1985 Legislature ordered a statewide reappraisal of property for tax purposes because it feared lawsuits from taxpayers and because the job had not been done in 20 years. The work was finished in 1989, and critics maintain a poor job was done in many areas.

The statewide effort cost nearly $86 million, and the state paid about $41 million of that. The state's 105 counties picked up the rest of the cost.

``PART OF the problem is that for the past four years, people have been trying to put the best face on it, trying to hide the problems rather than confronting them,'' Mrs. Wagnon said.

Cunningham said that after his division studies the appraisals and determines which counties have problems and where, the agency can decide how to address the problems.

``That's kind of a tall question,'' he said.

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