BY LAUREN RIGGS
According to a recent article published in The Wheeling Intelligencer, Assessor Ralph Phillips claims he did not go through with his initial plans to contract Tyler Technologies for appraisal duties because of lack of approval from the Wetzel County Commission.
Assessor Ralph Phillips
Phillips originally approached the Wetzel County Commission Aug. 14 to express his intentions to contract out field appraisal duties to Tyler Technologies of Dayton, Ohio. This contractor was one of the five used by the state to evaluate the first 19 counties in the Statewide Property Tax Equalization Study performed statewide from 2008-2011.
Specifically, Tyler Technologies was the reviewer for Wetzel County.
Reports released in December 2011 indicated that the findings provided by the Property Tax Equalization Study found that the Wetzel County Assessor's office had been out of compliance, for three years, with standards set by the Property Valuation Training and Procedures Commission. Assessors out of compliance for three years or more were required to provide the state with a written report by Jan. 11, 2012, and meet with the PVC in person on Jan. 18, 2012, for discussions.
The Statewide Property Tax Equalization Study Executive Summary for Tax Year 2008, as released to the public in 2010, lists the areas where the Wetzel County Assessor's Office does not meet acceptable standards as the following:
-procedures used by the WCAO to develop residential land tables
-procedures used by the State Tax Department to collect industrial real property data, as evidenced by a physical review of the sample provided
-procedures used by the WCAO to achieve appraisal uniformity between sold and unsold residential properties, as evidenced by a physical review of the sample provided
-procedures used by the WCAO to validate residential sales
-the assessment of residential improved real property as evidenced by the independent confirmation of sales data
-the assessment of residential vacant real property as evidenced by the independent confirmation of sales data
-the assessment of commercial real property as evidenced by the independent confirmation of sales data
-the assessment of industrial real property as evidenced by the independent confirmation of sales data,
Tyler Technologies developed a 2012 Reappraisal Services proposal for Wetzel County. The plan outlined that the appraisal of the county would take three years and would cost the county $306,000 for all three years of services-$106,000 for the first. Phillips had told commissioners that the money for such a project would come from funding that was set aside a number of years ago.
However, it was soon realized that counties with similar plans to contract out appraisal services had been met unfortunate consequences, which then, led to some concern amongst the citizens of Wetzel County. According to published reports from The Wheeling Intelligencer, the Statewide Property Tax Equalization Study recommended that Monongalia County Assessor Rodney Pyles reappraise every parcel in Monongalia County. A newspaper article stated, "Pyles earlier this year hired Tyler Technologies of Dayton, Ohio, to reappraise all of Monongalia County at one time. Now, many residents there are faced with the possibility of having to find hundreds or even thousands of extra dollars in their budgets just to keep up with their property taxes."
On Aug. 28, concerned resident Eric Yost approached the commission to express his disapproval over the assessor's plans to contract out field assessment duties to Tyler Technologies. "I have taken this upon myself, not only because I fear for my future, but for the future of every taxpayer in this county,"
Yost had stated. "After speaking with numerous people over the past two weeks and learning that they are not aware of what is about to unfold for them and has been perpetrated upon them by one individual, I wish to inform them and convey to the commission just how devastating this can be for our county and each taxpayer who owns land, however large or small."
Yost had passed out copies of a letter sent to a Monongalia County resident after their property had been appraised by Tyler Technologies last year. Yost describes the property as located "just five miles east of the Wetzel County line on Route 7, towards Morgantown, in a little community, at an intersection, called Wadestown." The property Yost referred to is an office building located on an 0.87 acre surface in a flood area. The prior appraised value of the property as of July 1, 2010, is $76,100. After the property was appraised by Tyler Technologies, the appraised value increased over 400 percent to $308,000. Yost had described this significant increase as being "beyond absurd and surpasses stupid!"
Despite the concern from residents, up until recently it appeared as if the field appraisal by Tyler Technologies would continue, until the published article came out from the Wheeling Intelligencer on Dec. 5. From that article, it appears as if there is confusion as to whom, exactly, put a stop to the contract. According to The Intelligencer, "(Phillips) blames the commissioners for not acting to approve a contract he arranged earlier this year with an independent assessor to determine values of property in Wetzel County."
However, later in the day on Aug. 14, after Phillips had first approached the commission, in an interview with the Wetzel Chronicle by phone, Phillips had reported that it was his intention to sign with Tyler Technologies for this year and it would be the new assessor's option to accept the proposed agreement for the next two years. When asked if hiring Tyler Technologies was in response to the compliance issues with the PVC, Phillips responded, "We've been doing this (field appraisals) since 1990, all 55 counties with doing one-third of a county a year. And this year, due to the fact my field man quit, we are contracting it out. . .instead of trying to get someone hired in and trained."
Also, the contract between Tyler Technologies and the assessor's office reads "In Witness Whereof, the Assessor of Wetzel County, West Virginia, acting in behalf of said County, and an authorized representative of Tyler Technologies, Inc., have signed this Agreement on the day and year first above written." The contract is dated Aug. 14 and is signed by Phillips; Chris C. Carter, Account Executive of Tyler Technologies, as well as two witnesses.
Assessor-elect Scott Lemley said that during his basic assessment training in Charleston, W.Va., he was made aware that for the past four years the procedures used by the Wetzel County Assessor's office to develop land tables, neighborhoods, and modifiers to maintain current market value appraisal do not meet acceptable standards. The same is reportedly true for procedures used by the Wetzel County Assessor to achieve appraisal uniformity between sold and unsold properties.
"During my term as Wetzel County Assessor, I will have to address some of these deficiencies, with regards to state law, as outlined by the state tax department and the PVC," noted Lemley.
"I want to assure the citizens of Wetzel County that I will handle my duties in a fair, consistent, and responsible manner. Also, I understand my responsibility, as county assessor, is to serve my fellow citizens and I answer to and work for my constituents in Wetzel County. I want to keep the lines of communication open between the public and the assessor's office, so I encourage any citizen who has a concern or question to please contact me."