Mike Mcdowell, Kootenai County Assessor
Laurie Thomas, Kootenai County Deputy Treasurer
ABOUT KOOTENAI COUNTY
Kootenai County, is located in the panhandle of Idaho, Coeur d’Alene is the county seat. The county has 20 lakes, 2 rivers, over 235 miles of water frontage, mountain ranges and a national forest. The county population in 1996 was 95,535 and in 2013 about 145,000 with the city of Coeur d’Alene having about 47,000. The parcel count is close to 91,000 with an assessed total taxable value of over 12 billion dollars—the second highest net taxable value of all 44 counties in the state. Idaho is one of a handful of nondisclosure states (Sale price disclosure is not mandatory) and we assess property at “market value”.
The assessor’s office currently has a staff of 60 employees down from 64 five years ago broken down into 5 divisions:
10 Administrative positions
16 Motor Vehicle positions
7 Mapping positions
22 Appraiser position (3 commercial, 1, forester, 1 mobile home, 1 personal property, 16 residential)
5 Manager positions
THE CHALLENGE: A 1980’S LEGACY SYSTEM
The County’s Assessor, Treasurer and Recorder offices were using antiquated stand alone legacy systems to record, value properties and manage their tax billing and collection processes. Being a recreational and retirement location, Kootenai County has a very diverse residential property type mix—we have everything from 500 square foot bungalow style homes to multimillion dollar estate type properties. The same is true for our commercial properties which include several large resorts and golf course communities. In addition, Idaho State law requires that we physically inspect each property in the county at least once within each five year cycle. With our old legacy system we were working harder, but not smarter.
THE SOLUTION: THOMSON REUTERS AUMENTUM
In 1995 we realized that our old system could not keep up with the county’s increasing growth and State mandates. After a long search in 1996 the county selected and installed ProVal which is now a product of Thomson Reuters. ProVal’s selection was based on the system’s ability to provide many features the county’s old system did not, including a flexible valuation engine that would allow appraisers to use various approaches to discover market value. We calculated the value of the property in ProVal then placed that value into the legacy system.
In 2003 the Assessor, Treasurer and Recorder started searching for a fully integrated appraisal and tax system. This was done in conjunction with two other Idaho counties that had similar needs (Tri County Group) A national search was conducted along with site visits and interviews with users of each product and in 2004 the Thomson Reuters Aumentum was selected to be the vendor of choice.
The conversion from an antiquated stand alone legacy system to implementation of Thomson Reuters new systems presented many hurdles. The Thomson Reuters team worked side by side with us from the beginning to understand our process, work flows, and all of our ultimate needs. They asked a lot of questions and over several months reached the point where they understood what we needed and how we needed it to work. In 2006 we went live with a fully integrated tax & assessment system.
At that same time we deployed Aumentum public access which provides our constituents with the ability to access property information and pay taxes via the Internet.
THE BENEFITS: INCREASED ACCURACY, PRODUCTIVITY & CONSTITUENT SATISFACTION
Beyond the benefits that ProVal has brought to the county’s appraisal process, once we capture building characteristic and value data we can then build uniform and reliable value sets. This allows us to analyze properties by type, by neighborhood and other various characteristics to determine what model adjustments are needed to provide the best value which reflects market conditions. We can consistently produce reliable assessments, which are the basis for the property tax system within the county.
For example we use current sales data to extract our Local Cost Modifier, this measure the cost of construction. We can then apply these extractions to our general sales and develop market adjustments by neighborhood and by building grade etc, and develop current depreciation tables.
We have also realized an increase in productivity. Under State law, the county conducts re-appraisals for twenty percent (20%) of properties every year. “We’re now conducting more appraisals on an annual basis with four fewer appraisers than we’ve had before. With the old system, we were appraising between 8 and 12 parcels per day per person, now using our value sets and process we can appraise up to 25 to 30 parcels a day per person. That is a significant increase in output and, equates to a seven percent (7.5%) annual savings to county tax payers.
In our Treasurer’s office, the results have been significant. In 2007, we had a full time staff of 11, augmented by three part-timers. Due to retirements and natural attrition, this staff decreased and as it did, we did not fill these positions. Today, we have a full time staff of seven with one part timer for two weeks—a 37 percent reduction in staff. Yet, in spite of those reductions, in each of the last seven years, our office has reached higher levels of efficiency than the previous year. During that time we’ve been able to make the right day-to-day decisions based on real-time, up to the minute, verified information, while at the same time making long-range plans using our system’s forecasting tools.
We’ve also been able to do more with less. With our full complement of 11 staff and part-timers it used to take us three weeks, working days and nights to get the tax bills out. Now, it takes our smaller staff of seven less than a week to do so. And while we would previously work from the second week in December to the end of January in order to acknowledge, “chase”, and deposit all payments, now we are done by December 31, with the county receiving additional revenues in record time from accrued interest.
We are also very pleased with the benefits provided by Aumentum public access. The system has allowed the county to provide an excellent level of service to constituents. In 2011 the assessor’s office had 663 assessment review inquiries in 2013 we had 385 and in 2014 it dropped to 323. This shows a fifty percent (50%) reduction in the numbers of individuals coming into our Assessor’s office to inquire about their assessments from 2011 to 2014. We attribute that to our citizen’s ability to look at those assessments online and understand how the values were produced.
Providing taxpayers the ability to view and pay their tax bills online has helped to reduce traffic in our Treasurer’s office by over 30 percent, while enhancing our personalized one-on-one customer service, providing immediate access to information, and improving our levels of staff productivity.
Our Assessment & Tax information is available at no charge to the general public, while for ‘professional users’ such as title companies, banks, attorneys and others, we provide a monthly subscription service which helps Kootenai cover the cost of public access maintenance fees.”
By working to integrate our databases and making them basically different segments of the same database we have eliminated a lot of the duplicated, redundant types of data entry throughout the organization, increasing our accuracy and efficiency.
As we move forward, we can take full advantage of all of the efficiencies that come with the systems This integration has also led to greater levels of cooperation among all three county offices, which in turn has increased our ability to provide quality services to our constituents.”
We appreciate the significant role Thomson Reuters has played and continues to play in helping us achieve a fully integrated property and revenue management solution.