A proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 for the Palo Alto County Assessor's Office was given approval by the county's Conference Board during its annual meeting on Feb. 5. The Conference Board is comprised of representatives from each of the four school districts located in the county, along with the mayors of the incorporated towns and the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.
Representing school boards were Doug Schwartzkopf of West Bend-Mallard, Kim Campbell of Emmetsburg and Kevin Jensen of Graettinger-Terril. Representing the cities were Mayor Jim Gehrt of Mallard, Mayor Marilyn Schutz of West Bend and Mayor Kevin Hanson of Graettinger. County Supervisors present included Board Chair Ron Graettinger, Ed Noonan, Linus Solberg and Keith Wirtz.
In presenting her yearly report to the Conference Board members, Palo Alto County Assessor Lois Naig noted that five new plats on Five Island Lake had been filed in the past year, with several new lots being sold in a range of $60,000 to $110,000 per lot, creating additional taxable value for the county.
Naig also noted that the County Board of Review had received five protests of assessments. Of the five petitions for review, one was upheld and the other four were denied. Following denials, two appeals were filed with the state, but both appeals were overturned at the state level.
"The Department of Revenue has informed all assessors that we are looking at a 35 to 40 percent increase on all Ag land values for 2013," Naig said. "This is based on the five year productivity formula; yields, grain prices and expenses from the 2007 through the 2011 crop years are used in this productivity formula to determine the 2013 assessment. These values will be used to calculate the taxes payable in September 2014-2015."
The board nominated Marlene Banwart of West Bend to fill a six-year term on the county Board of Review. Banwart had been appointed to fill an unexpired term on the Board of Review that expired on Dec. 31, 2012. After receiving no other nominations, the Board voted unanimously to appoint Banwart to the six-year term.
Turning to the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Naig noted that the tax asking for the budget would be lower than last year, with an asking of .4048, down from the .41782 tax asking for the current year's budget.
"The budget is very similar to last years," Naig said. "The cost for legal publication has risen significantly, for one area."
For the 2013-14 fiscal year, Naig submitted a budget of $249,680, up from the current 2012-13 budget of $246,414, an increase of $3,266.
Other increases in budget areas included health insurance, dental insurance and salaries.
"What are you recommending for salaries in your office?" asked Supervisor Ed Noonan.
Naig answered with a 2.5 percent raise for the office manager and the clerk and three percent for herself. Naig explained that in the statewide salary rankings for assessors, Palo Alto County ranked 85 and also noted only three counties that paid their assessors the same salaries as the elected officials of auditor, treasurer and recorder.
Naig noted that Emmet County appointed a new assessor a little over a year ago on a provisional basis, as she had passed the state test but had no previous assessing experience and had to be mentored by the Department of Revenue for 18 months. "She now has gotten her full appointment so she will be making more than me and I've been in the office for 10 years, so that's why the three percent."
With little other discussion, Noonan moved to approve the budget and received a second from Marilyn Schutz. The budget was approved on unanimous votes of the school boards, mayors and supervisors.
Naig then proposed an increase to the mileage reimbursement rate from the current 45 cents per mile to the current Internal Revenue Service reimbursement rate of 56.5 cents per mile. "I would not have to increase my budget to bump up to that 56.5 cents," Naig noted, adding that she had put 8,000 miles on her personal vehicle in the past year making field assessment visits and inspections.
Noonan moved to increase the county mileage reimbursement to 50 cents per mile, which drew a second from Doug Schwartzkopf and earned unanimous approval from the three groups.
To wrap up the meeting, the board set 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26 in the Supervisors Board Room at the Courthouse as the time and place for the public hearing on the Assessors' Budget.