Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Public servant" remark a cheap shot

Blogger Alex Tiahnyok, a former Pleasant Prairie village board member, makes an interesting, albeit vitriolic, point about municipal property assessments in the wake of declining values.

After making his point, however, Alex continues (emphasis as in the original): "MAKE SURE YOUR local ASSESSOR'S OFFICE knows about this. KEEP REMINDING THEM THAT THE SAME JUSTIFICATION USED TO JACK UP YOUR ASSESSMENTS NOW MUST BE USED IN REVERSE DIRECTION!"

I'm not making this up. That's the exact comment and emphasis he uses. Then he gives village assessor's name, address, telephone number and E-mail address followed by (again, emphasis in the original): "DON'T BE HESITANT TO CALL. HE AND HIS TEAM ARE NOT AFRAID TO GO INTO YOUR HOME AND POKE AROUND, SO WHY SHOULD YOU HESITATE TO CALL HIM AT HIS WORKPLACE. AFTERALL, HE IS A PUBLIC SERVANT.I AM TALKING ABOUT YOUR MONEY FROM YOUR POCKET -- DEMAND CHANGE!!!"

Let's parse this out.

First, the question is good. But Alex could have called Rocco Vita, the village assessor, for an answer himself and, by all means, post his comments and perhaps even a critque of the response. Here he appears to launch a condemnation of Rocco Vita without any foundation for his attack.

Second, there's nothing necessarily wrong about calling, writing or E-mailing Rocco. Several years ago his office was next to mine and, I'll tell you this, if you ask Rocco a question, you'll get an answer. It may not always be the answer that you or I may like to hear, but he'll give you one -- and usually in great detail. Rocco is a true professional who knows his stuff.

Third, there's the bit, though, about calling Rocco "a public servant" who "pokes around" your home.

Folks, slavery was outlawed in 1862. Rocco is a public employee, not a servant. Yes, public employees serve the public and, yes, they are accountable for their actions, but the tenor of the comment is vitriolic and insulting. Plus, in order to make a fair assessment, the assessors need to inspect the property. That cuts both ways, too. A property that may look great on the outside may only be in fair condition inside (and vice versa).

Finally, the exhortation "DEMAND CHANGE" is insulting because it intimates that there is something that needs to be changed. Alex may be right -- change may be needed. But since he didn't bother to state the full case before going off, how does he know that there won't be a revision of property values as he suggests? In that case, what change would he propose?

The basic premise Alex made -- shouldn't property assessments be reduced if property values fall -- is appropriate. But that question then launches into an attack without foundation. If Rocco (who, by the way, I haven't always agreed with) said there's no way assessments will be adjusted, then Alex would have a valid criticism. But how do you bum rap the guy or demand change when you haven't done your homework?

And yes, the assessor is answerable to the village administrator and village board. If there are concerns to be shared or reminders to be made, the village board is the place to start.


Anonymous said...

RAG you hit it right on! Once again Alex has not done his homework. He states he always got bare minimum, but never bothered sitting down with the appropriate department heads to ask questions. I am just guessing but even though he had the material given to him before hand he probably didn't review it before the meetings.

RAG said...

Village People was not happy that I excerpted his comment to delete what I felt was extraneous material and off point. So I deleted the comment entirely. As with any publication, submissions may be edited or rejected, as stated.

Anonymous said...

Good job, RAG. The long knives will be out to get you now!

PleasantPrairieWI said...

So, PUBLIC SERVANT is now a pejorative term?

I had no problem being labeled a public servant when I was a trustee. Let's see, this is a public office, and I was 'serving' the public!

The village assessor IS A PUBLIC SERVANT -- come on Dick. YOU ARE A PUBLIC SERVANT. I expect you won't publish this even IF I typed it twice.

I stand behind everything I said. If the public simply sits by and expects to see something happen proactively, I predict that the response will be "we gave them a chance, but apparently they saw nothing wrong". This government cares nothing about public opinion until they hear it from the PUBLIC.

I will be happy to praise anyone including the assessor's office IF and ONLY IF I see action.

PleasantPrairieWI said...

PS. To the anonymouse that again proves they know remarkably little.
I regularly studied my pre-meeting packets. That is why I was ABLE to asking probing questions while others were only able to say how much they admired the work of the staff and how nothing better could be done. Give me a break -- back-slapping is easy, but accomplishes nothing. I can show you samples of blank pages inserted in pre-meeting packets that are evidence of intentional information withholding. What say you?

RAG said...

In Wisconsin, the terms "public official" and "public employee" are used.

The "public servant" term is sometimes offensive because it connotes an anachronistic and inaccurate "master" and "servant" relationship instead of that of a professional employed by a unit of government to perform specified duties. (For example, there isn't a union called the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Servants.)

I never considered Alex a "public servant" but rather a "public official" as he held an elected public office.

Certainly we expect public officials and public employees to provide good service consistent with available resources.

As for the original discussion, the basic premise -- assessed values should reflect the market -- is well-founded but the vitriolic tone and the implication that the assessor is or will do something wrong is without foundation.

While people are certainly free to ask the assessor questions, it makes little sense to have a whole bunch of people asking the same question and getting the same answer.

While the specific question Alex raised isn't answered on the village web site, there is this: "Your assessment is dynamic and changes to reflect changes in the real estate market since the last revaluation. No change or a modest increase does not necessarily mean your property or neighborhood will decline in desirability or value. In comparing changes from previous years, we see many areas stabilizing in value. Properties change, markets change. Buyers and sellers determine market value; the assessor's job is to reflect changes to market value in the assessment process."

There is also an "assessment tutorial" on the web site which is right on point:

"Estimating the market value of each property is a matter of determining the price most people would pay for it in its present condition.

However, the assessor's office has the task of valuing all of the houses, farms, retail buildings, office buildings, apartment complexes, and distribution facilities in Pleasant Prairie. This includes estimating the value of all of the commercial furniture, equipment, and machinery.

Every two years the assessor's office has to do the whole thing over again because the market value of almost everything changes from one year to the next. As we all know, a number of properties are sold each year. It is the relationship between the sales price and the current assessment that gives the assessor's office, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, and the public an indication of the growth of property values over time. For instance, if a particular property has an assessed value of $100,000 as of January 1, 2004, but is sold for $125,000 during December, 2006, the assessed value needs to be adjusted upwards by $25,000 or 25% in this instance, for the new 2006 assessment to reflect market value.

Property revaluations, or market value updates, are performed every two years so that the costs of education, fire and police protection, county services, and municipal services can be distributed over all taxable property in the Village. Your share of the cost of these services is based upon the value of your property relative to the total value of all property in the Village. The value of your property, as determined by the assessor's office, is called the 'ssessed value.'In the year of a revaluation, the assessed value is referred to as fair market value."

The village web site also includes a good summary of how to informally and formally challenge an assessment and how the assessments relate to property tax rates.

Alex's post seems to suggest that people ought to tie up the assessor's office venting some type of angst when, in fact, there may be no controversy.

As for me, I have no reason to doubt that the assessor's office will do its job in the proper manner. If I disagree with my assessment -- and there have been a few times when I have had concerns -- I know the process.

In my situation -- living in an old "town island" -- I am sometimes concerned that the comparable properties used for evaluation purposes may not be entirely comparable.

After I expressed my concern about that to Rocco, I set out to find a "more comparable" property in my neighborhood (which is a mix of city and village homes). The assessment of the most comparable property, which was in the city, was within a few hundred dollars of mine. While I would have preferred the lower figure, the reality is that it was so close that I can't say the assessor was wrong.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember Alex campaigning vociferously to freeze property assessments for 5 years to stem the increase of values. That would of enabled him to see some relief in his increasing property assessment on his home on Lakeshore Drive. At that time he cared little, if at all, about any other property owner in the Village who would have sat with a higher assessed value on their property while their actual market value declined. Now that his value is declining where is his demand for no revaluations for 5 years?

The real truth is Alex does just enough homework to see if he is ahead or behind. If it works for him, good for everybody; bad for him, bad for everybody. The only thing thats consistent with Alex is that its all about Alex, always has been and always will be. Alex's "probing questions" all had to do with Alex.

RAG is on point with his description of the assessing process. Guess what. Alex sat at the big table for two years and still doesn't understand it but can work the innuendo and the cap key on the keyboard with gusto. What a legislative disappointment.