Government and Real Estate

Work group assesses how properties are handled

County EQ director says changes can and should be made.

November 10, 2012
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Can property assessments and equalization services be consolidated to save local governments some cash and also provide the private real estate sector with more timely information?

Kent County Equalization Director Matt Woolford thinks so, and that’s what he told members of the county’s Community Collaboration Work Group last week. “I think there are opportunities for collaboration and cooperation,” he said.

Woolford told the panel he has been meeting with local assessors to discover how they could collaborate better. He said they’re looking at possibly putting together a website that would house property information from the county’s nine cities and 21 townships under a single virtual roof, sort of a “one-stop shopping” site, as he called it.

“Form should follow function,” he said. “I believe the county could help reduce the amount of redundancy.”

Woolford thinks redundancy can be reduced by using technology to create an access point where assessors can easily collaborate. “It’s going to happen anyway,” he said.

There are 60 property databases in the county: one for each of the 30 units of government, and then each sends the county its property database. Woolford said there is existing technology that can put all that information in a single, central location, and doing that would lead to real-time collaboration.

“This would serve the private real estate industry and economic development. I think this has real potential,” said Woolford.

“It’s really about putting things into a cloud. It’s the way things are done now, and we’ve got to get aboard. It’s got great efficiencies,” said Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom.

Woolford said his department could offer local governments assessment services, field services and defense representation in cases that go before the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

“(Or) you could create a new entity that would charge for its services. There still are assessments that are only updated every two years. In the real estate world, that’s a very long time,” said Sundstrom.

“The point is we don’t have to dump this on the county. We can have a shared service with shared costs. The county could run it; it doesn’t matter,” he added.

Some local governments, though, might balk at getting aboard because their officials might see that type of entity as taking authority and autonomy away from them.

But Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said a hurdle like that can be cleared. “You do that by providing good value,” he said.

Right now, property assessments are made by a city’s or a township’s assessor; some are full time, while others work on a part-time basis. In addition, there are some reappraisal firms in the county that offer services locally.

The county’s equalization office has an appraisals division and a property description and mapping division, and it also makes sure that assessments are legal and follow the local millage rate. In the past, some have suggested the county should take over assessing properties.

“If we were to do that in the county,” said Woolford, “we would have to set up an assessment division.”

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