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Stutsman County tax director fired for appraising property she hadn't visited

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Stutsman County's tax equalization director was terminated last week after officials were told she had appraised a property without visiting it.

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Stutsman County's tax equalization director was terminated last week after officials were told she had appraised a property without visiting it.

The county is checking every parcel record that's been changed in the past year, including any changes made by Toni Hible, who served as tax equalization director for the county from March 21, 2011, until her termination on Feb. 7, 2012.

"Basically, what we're doing is printing out every parcel that was changed and reviewing why it was changed," said Casey Bradley, Stutsman County auditor/chief operating officer.

The county's usual procedure each year is to double-check records for all properties that have changed in that time, if the assessed value changed, the property was split in half to be sold by its owners, or for any other reason.

This year that will involve 200 to 300 parcels, Bradley said.


According to interim Tax Equalization Director Dustin Bakken, formerly a staff appraiser under Hible's supervision, he and Hible assessed about 100 properties between them.

Bakken estimated that Hible had appraised about 10 to 15 of the parcels by herself, and all of those assessments were on commercial property rather than residential.

"I don't foresee it affecting taxpayers at all," Bakken said. "The valuations that we did, we went out and did the assessment, and any assessment that was in question is going to be reviewed and the appropriate measures will be taken to change them or not change them."

To determine taxes on a property, it first must be appraised. Typically, the appraisal process involves visiting the property, speaking with the owner, measuring the exterior, taking pictures and then entering the data on a computerized system, Bakken said.

There are a few circumstances in which an appraiser would not visit a property before assessing the value, but they largely involve buildings which are in very early stages of construction, Bakken said.

In those cases, the owner would provide a blueprint and the appraiser would schedule a follow-up appointment for when the building was closer to being complete.

"Taxes aren't popular, period. They need to be fair," Bradley said. "(Assessing a value) to a property and not taking a look at it is not fair to the public."

Because checking all the changes in the parcels is part of the county's normal procedure, the only way the county will have to pay extra costs will be if any errors are found. Those extra costs would be in staff time, Bradley said.


There were many other factors involved in Hible's termination, however, and some of them will mean extra costs for Stutsman County.

"A lot of that may be related to normal workload (and) just getting caught up," Bradley said.

Hible was behind in much of her work, Bradley said, and the county will contract with Noel Johnson, its former chief operating officer and auditor, at a rate of $35 an hour in an effort to catch up. How much that catch-up work will cost the county -- mostly in staff time -- will remain unknown until the work has been completed.

Hible could not be reached for comment.

Hible's personnel files with the county show reprimands for missing deadlines, not presenting information to the Stutsman County Commission when told to do so, not submitting required status reports and taking unauthorized vacation time.

Her status as a probationary employee was extended after her first six months as tax equalization director, and she still had that status when she was terminated.

"It shouldn't have any effect on people," Bradley said, adding that Hible's work had not yet made it onto the tax rolls.

The work would be the 2012 taxes payable in 2013, and everything should be double-checked by then, Bradley said.


The article is from The Jamestown (N.D.) Sun. The Sun and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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