The Langdon City Commission held their City Equalization meeting, one month behind the state mandated date, to a large assemblage of almost 100 angry residents.
Posted on 5/15/15
By Melissa Anderson
In stunning displays of leadership, the commission, composed of Charles “Chuck” Downs, Jim Rademacher, Cody Schlittenhard, Lawrence Henry, and Marty Tetrault and Langdon City Auditor Connie Schrader had Langdon City Attorney Cameron Sillers and Langdon City Assessor Mel Carsen address the crowd.
An immediate question posed from the audience was how the assessments could be legal when they were not sent out in time.
“The assessments are effective and will go towards the county equalization meeting as they do every year. Because they didn’t have the meeting [on the state mandated date] the assessments will go to the county and you will have the opportunity to appeal to the county. If you are still unhappy, you can go to the state. The City Tax Equalization Board cannot make adjustments and the purpose of this meeting is to allow the city to explain why they did what they did,” Sillers stated.
The question of why the meeting wasn’t held on the state mandated date was also answered by Sillers.
“The statue says it was suppose to be held on the second Tuesday, and they weren’t quite ready to have it and were under the impression that they could postpone it,” Sillers said.
Sillers went on to explain why the tax assessments were legal and valid based on his reading and his conversation with the State. None of the assessments are affected, but what is affected is the appeals process. By not holding the meeting on the mandated second Tuesday in April, the city no longer has the authority to make adjustments to the assessments.
“The appeal process is affected by not having the meeting [on time],” Sillers stated.
Sillers than gave the floor to Mel Carsen to explain how he and Schrader went about reassessing the properties in the City of Langdon.
According to Carsen, assessments on an annual basis are always compared to what houses sold for. Carsen explained how the ratio works.
When a house sells for $100,000 and was assessed for $70,000 the ratio is 70%. I’m using numbers that are easy to understand. That calculation is used on any sale that takes place what they sold for in comparison to what they are assessed at.
When applied to Langdon, home assessments were found to be about 69% of the selling prices.
About three years ago the city started a reappraisal program. Carsen and Schrader reviewed properties to ensure that the homes were accurate on their cards and had what was listed. They did not enter the homes.
The homes in Langdon were given a grade.
Older homes from around the 70s were usually given a “B” grade, and homes from the 1990s on were usually given a grade of “A” or even “AA”.
“The condition was representative of what the house actually was. The effective age also controls the amount of depreciation the house will get. We priced them out as if they were new and then depreciated them for wear and tear and economic obsolescence.” Carsen said.
“Economic obsolescence”, also referred to as external obsolescence, is the loss in value resulting from influences external to the property itself.
After all the factors were considered, Carsen stated that he still needed a 31 percent increase to bring the city as a whole into the required ratio of 90 percent true and full value.
“I then tried to establish rates that would give me a 31 percent increase that would be representative of what each house that was sold. A decent number that was representative of what the actual sale was.
Carsen explained that no matter what was done with the rates, he also had to address the economic obsolescences. There were three categories of economic obsolescence that were available to use. Homes older than 1948 carried a 40 percent decrease, 1949 to 1970 carried 25 percent decrease and anything newer than 1971 carried a 20 percent decrease in value.
“What I found was newer homes, no matter what I did, would be undervalued compared to the older ones,” Carsen stated.
Carsen had to create two additional categories of economic obsolescence; anything newer than 1990 had a 10 percent decrease and anything newer than 2000 would get a 5 percent decrease.
“When I did that, they seemed to correlate with the sales,” Carsen explained.
Using the newly created categories specifically for Langdon, Carsen tested these categories out on the sales of 2014 and found that it seemed to bring the assessments within the required ratio.
Residents raised questions as to why the houses are being assessed at values higher than what they can be sold for.
Carsen responsed that a few residents’ houses may be the exceptions. This was met with an uproar that this was not the case and that many homes were overassessed.
The complaints that the residents put before Carsen to explain dealt with inaccuracies in description of properties, over assessments for things such as garages and fireplaces, and unfair assessments of properties overall in comparison to properties in the same area.
Carsen, for the most part, agreed with those present that these were things that needed to be corrected.
The question of what could be done to reassess the properties in Langdon because of how unfair the current assessments are went unanswered by the city commission and Schrader.
Cavalier County Tax Director Pam Lafrenz suggested the city hire an assessment crew that could come in and complete the assessments on the entire city within a few weeks instead of the process that drags out for years that the city currently practices.
“I know that it’s a lot of money, but it needs to be equalized, and it’s not equalized right now,” Lafrenz stated.
Retired Cavalier County Auditor Dawn Roppel raised concerns that with so many residents in opposition to their assessments, that by the City of Langdon pushing responsibility of rectifying incorrect assessments onto the Cavalier County Commission the county would not be able to address every resident. Roppel suggested that the city not make any changes to the 2015 assessments so that the city can address the citizens assessments.
“At least you guys would be able to take care of your own problem by taking care of your people and letting them come to the county next year. You, yourselves, have said that there may be some assessments that are not right,” Roppel stated.
Roppel also pointed out that by the City of Langdon stalling on having the City Equalization meeting and hoisting responsibility onto the county for dealing with the upset citizenry, that the city has placed unreasonable strain on Lafrenz to accomplish the necessary preparations for the County Equalization meeting on June 2.
“It’s rude what you guys are doing [to the county],” Roppel stated.
Cavalier County Commissioner Tom Borgen was present at the meeting and addressed the crowd.
“We [Cavalier County Commission] are at a disadvantage if this moves on as they’re suggesting. When we have that June 2 date we have to get it in to the state by June 14. That won’t happen cause, again, we won’t satisfy your needs or our responsibilities in that one day. In my opinion, you can’t move it on to the county as if it is a salvation to all of you because you won’t get your answers. I don’t know how it can be done,” Borgen stated.
The meeting turned to a lot of discussion that circled around the inability of the City Commission to do anything for the angry citizens present with explanations from Sillers and Carsen on how the assessments were conducted and that the county would be faced with many upset residents.
“It’s really unfortunate for the county, but the county needs to help us out,”Sillers stated.
Lafrenz reminded Sillers that she had tried to inform the city commission and Schrader prior to the April 1 deadline that the city needed to have the assessments done and the equalization meeting held by the state appointed time.
“It doesn’t do any good to tell us what we should have done or could have done. It’s May 11, and we’re here,” Sillers responded.
The residents also asked if the people who didn’t get the assessments done on time would be held accountable, Sillers responded for the commission by stating that those who wanted to discuss that would need to attend the next city commission meeting and “speak your voice”. The question of what the city will do with the extra revenue generated by the increases was asked and Sillers again responded by saying that he was unaware of what the city would do with the extra tax money if there even would be any.
The Langdon City Commissioners and Auditor had this to say following the meeting:
Charles “Chuck” Downs: “We stated our part that we made a mistake and will have to deal with it. We [Connie, Mel, Cameron and myself] are meeting at the next county commission meeting to discuss the next step”.
Jim Rademacher: “This cannot happen again. We cannot be late. We took their [citizens] voices away by us being at least four weeks late. We needed to be done April 1 so we could have our meeting, so everybody could have the same chance to argue. For the last three years, two before I was on the board, this has happened. Everybody who was at the meeting complaining had every right to complain”.
In responding to the question of if the city auditor and assessor would be held responsible Rademacher stated,“ We have to address that, and in what ways, I don’t know yet”.
Cody Schlittenhard: “It’s basically an apology on my part. We are in the wrong, and it’s quite obvious that this was not done in a timely manner. We were warned that it was being done the wrong way, but we were never warned about the deadlines and requirements. I would do the right thing if I knew what the right thing was.
In responding to the question of if the city auditor and assessor would be held responsible Schlittenhard stated: “ It’s pretty simple, get people that can do the job right. You shouldn’t have to babysit your city auditor”.
Lawrence Henry: “We should have been on top of this a bit more. As far as having this meeting , we did not know until the night before that we could not change that [assessments]. We relied on our people.”
In responding to the question of if the city auditor and assessor would be held responsible, Henry stated: “We are going to do whatever we can to make this right. This is not going to happen again, it can’t.”
Marty Tetrault: “We messed up and somehow need to correct our mistake. The date was what screwed everything up. I’m on the commission, and, speaking for myself, it’s partly my fault and getting incorrect information.”
In responding to the question of if the city auditor and assessor would be held responsible, Tetrault stated, “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
Langdon City Auditor Connie Schrader: “I don’t really know what to say. I did like Mel’s presentation explaining what was going on, thought that was very good. Some people were still upset, but I don’t know what else to say. We are helping the county trying to get their letters out.”
In response to if she is working on a plan to ensure this never happens again Schrader stated that she was working on a plan.
The Cavalier County Republican reiterated the main question of why the equalization meeting was not held on time.
“We weren’t ready for it. He [Mel Carsen] had a lot of programs to get together. We went through all the parcels again to see if there were any mistakes that we knew of. That lead further into April. Mel knew we weren’t going to make it and asked me to ask the commission if we could push it back,” Schrader stated.
The Republican asked if Schrader was aware of the state statutes that mandated the equalization meeting be held on the second Tuesday in April.
“I thought there was leeway. I didn’t know there was a century code for it. I guess you learn by mistakes,” Schrader responded.
The following morning Roppel, Lafrenz and current Cavalier County Auditor Lisa Gellner held a meeting via conference call with North Dakota State Supervisor of Assessments, Linda Leadbetter.
Leadbetter reinforced the statements made by Roppel and others at the city equalization meeting that the city cannot throw out the 2014 assessments. If the city were to do so and return to the ratio of 2013 assessments and send that information to the state, the state will place a blanket increase on the city of Langdon somewhere between 30 and 40 percent.
The representatives discussed with Leadbetter about the equalization meeting. Leadbetter informed them that the county has to hold their own equalization meeting, sending out the same 705 notices of increase letters that the city sent out. Residents will then be able to attend the county equalization meeting on June 2 at 10 am from 11 am. Those in disagreement with their assessments will have this one opportunity to have the issues with their 2014 assessments addressed.
“You have to be there at the initial equalization and have your name written down on the sheet that you were present in order to have your valuation reviewed,” Roppel stated.
Roppel stated that whatever the county can get done in that one hour including townships is all that they will address at that time. The equalization meeting will then be put into recess until Cavalier County Commission Chair Rick Ring decides the next meeting time and will continue the equalization meeting until every resident has had their valuation reviewed. The county commission will then address those residents petitioning for adjustments in groups of parcel numbers on specific days until everyone has had their opportunity for a review of their 2014 assessment.
Leadbetter also recommended, on behalf of the State, that the Cavalier County Commission recommend to the City of Langdon that a company that conducts assessments be brought in to reassess the entire City of Langdon for the 2015 assessments. This may result in some homes being increased and some decreased. The State and County are concerned with the consistency of the assessments which is why a company will be suggested for future assessments.
“The assessments need to be unbiased, accurate and consistent across the board,” Roppel stated.
To make the County Equalization process as smooth and quick as possible, Lafrenz has these recommendations to those who want to have their assessment reviewed by the county. If residents are being assessed for something that they do not have, such as a screened-in porch or a bathroom, Lafrenz will come to the property to verify that information.
“I will not review the entire house, just the item that they are assessed for but do not have,” Lafrenz stated.
Lafrenz stated that the letters being sent out will be very self explanatory and that residents do have to come in to that very first meeting if they want their assessment reviewed. Lafrenz stated that by the time of print residents should have received their letter from the county about their assessment. Lafrenz advises for out-of-state residents who want to have their property assessment reviewed to send someone in their place with written explanations or an appraisal.
“If somebody feels their house is very overassessed, they can bring in an appraisal, but if they think they can sell their house for that then don’t waste your time,” Lafrenz said.
The Cavalier County Equalization meeting will be held at the Cavalier County Courthouse in the large meeting room on the north end of the courthouse on June 2 from 10 to 11 a.m.