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Equalization director defends valuation practices for Davison Co.

The person in charge of valuing land and property in Davison County claimed Tuesday she's being "ridiculed" and compared the county's Board of Equalization process to "a boxing ring."...

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The person in charge of valuing land and property in Davison County claimed Tuesday she's being "ridiculed" and compared the county's Board of Equalization process to "a boxing ring."

Kathy Goetsch made a presentation to the Davison County commissioners during their regular meeting, saying she thought the commissioners - who make up the county's Board of Equalization - were losing sight of the purpose of their duties in hearing appeals. It was at that time she defended her office's assessing practices.

Goetsch's primary complaint was centered around the arguments she had with Donald and Donna Tilberg, who live in Prosper Township, and have argued that the valuation on their 80 acres of land was too high because the land frequently floods. Goetsch and the Tilbergs went back and forth during the April 23 meeting for more than 45 minutes before the matter was tabled to Tuesday.

Matters were much calmer on Tuesday but Goetsch told the commission she still was upset.

"What's happened is that I've been put in a boxing arena with that appellant. I've already talked to them several times," she said. "When I'm sitting here and defending things - lately, I can't even speak - and that I'm unequalizing and that I'm not doing something that we need to be doing. I'm kind of being mocked. I end up defending the laws that I'm supposed to work for. I can't do that anymore. That's where I'm at. I can't do that anymore."

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The commission had a few responses to Goetsch. Brenda Bode, the regular board's chairwoman, asked Goetsch if this was an appropriate use of her time.

"I thought we were going to be hearing from people with appeals," Bode asked. "Can we have a discussion about your job at another time?"

Goetsch said that she is not required to be on hand for the Board of Equalization hearings, and could just provide the data to the commissioners to have them handle. She said she's there as a courtesy to help everyone understand the process.

Commissioner John Claggett said that the commissioners are backing Goetsch and the office.

"I need your people here for clarity, not to question how you do your job," he said.

"It's important when there's an appeal, that whoever worked it up can show, 'Here's where I got the information and how I got where I got to with this,'" Commissioner Randy Reider added.

Goetsch, the county's equalization director since 2006, had a prepared presentation explaining how and why her office functions differently from a private appraiser or a real estate broker. She said her office has to use 3 to 5 years of sales comparisons for values, while those in real estate and those getting their home appraised can commonly use sales from the last 3 to 6 months. Sales have to be from Nov. 1 or earlier to be used for comparison on a property for the next year's value.

"We work for the county, and defend our values for the county," she said, as she brought a handful of her equalization staff to the meeting as well.

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Goetsch also said that her office can't handpick sales to use for comparisons, or use a sale from a property recently as the sole reason to change a value. In addition to the county role, Goetsch also works for Crane Realty as a real estate broker.

"We have to treat everyone the same," Goetsch said. "Even if we're doing it incorrectly, as long as we're treating everyone the same, that's what matters."

Settling the land value dispute

Last week, the Tilbergs said that Goetsch and her office told them they needed soil maps from the Natural Resource Conservation Service to help make the case, but the Tilbergs said Goetsch wouldn't accept that information. Goetsch said that Donald Tilberg only wanted to argue with her.

"I told him I wasn't going to do that," she said last week. "I told him, 'I do not have time to argue with you today.'"

For his part, Tilberg said last week he was disappointed with how he was treated by Goetsch and her office, and asked the commission, "How long are we going to let a public official insult a private citizen like this?"

On Tuesday, using the county's GIS history since 2004, Goetsch said there were four years where the area appeared dry, and three years where it was wet. The Tilbergs were seeking an inundated status on part of their land to get a lower value, which Goetsch said needs to be documented three consecutive years.

The Tilberg matter was settled, with Goetsch providing additional photos she took April 24 and showing that there was standing water on the Tilberg land. She said 2018 aerial photos seemed to show water, as well, but left the decision to the commission.

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She figured about 7.6 acres was affected - down from the 21.6 acres requested by the Tilbergs - and figured $146,910 would be the new value of the land with the flooding accounted for. That was a $11,315 decrease from the original $158,225 value.

The commission unanimously approved the lower valuation. The Tilbergs were told they would have to continue to apply for inundated status each year to continue getting the lower valuation.

"I think that reflects the condition (of the land)," Claggett said.

In other business, the commission took the following action:

• In another Board of Equalization matter, Claggett presented on behalf of First United Methodist Church, where he is on the church's Board of Trustees. He appealed the denial of the tax-exempt status of an apartment building adjacent to the church that was purchased Nov. 5, 2018, after the Nov. 1 valuation deadline for 2019. He argued that the building will be used for church purposes and in accordance to its mission, and that the church did not charge rent for the outgoing tenants living in the building after the church bought the property. With Claggett not participating in the vote, the board unanimously approved the tax-exempt status on the property.

• Heard a report from County Physical Plant Director Mark Ruml regarding March storm damage at the Davison County Fairgrounds to the building's gutters. Ruml said he received an estimate and the repair costs were figured to be $12,000. No action was taken Tuesday.

• Set the fee for a one-day malt beverage license permit at $200, after receiving a request for a rural wedding planned for this fall.

• Approved a request from Chief Deputy Sheriff Steve Harr to apply for grant funding for a seat belt enforcement grant of $7,500.

• Appointed Dave Anderson, of Mount Vernon, to replace Gary Stadlman on the Davison County Planning Commission. Stadlman resigned from his position in January.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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