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July 17, 2013 - Some good news: new construction permits in Independence Township are up.

But the bad news: the township is in danger of state sanction due to property assessment shortfalls, said township Assessor Kristen Sieloff.

The assessing department was cut during the recent economic downtown and is now short an employee, Sieloff said.

"We need to put tools in place and meet state requirements," she said. "If the requirements are not met during an audit, the state of Michigan can order the township to complete a full appraisal of all property in the township, which could cost thousands of dollars. You don't want to be in that position."

Only eight percent of a 20-percent state requirement to review all parcels in the township has been completed, she told the board at its July 9 meeting.

The state recommends all residential parcels in the township be reviewed every five years. So far, the township has only reviewed eight percent of all properties. Independence has a total of 13,000 residential parcels and about 2,000 commercial properties, she said.

Meeting the 20 percent guideline each year is a significant job with so few employees and several other tasks to get done, she said.

The department currently has four full-time and one part-time employee to complete a variety of work.

Sieloff said the State Tax Commission wants municipalities to have the most accurate records possible.

"One of the major things I've expressed is that we need to adhere to State Tax Commission guidelines," she said.

The Assessor's Office is responsible for inventory of all property in the township, including valuation of the taxable parcels including land and buildings, personal property, and businesses. The department also completes appraisals, and approves work permits.

Before the recent downturn in the community, the department had three appraisers, a clerical worker, and a director. Sieloff said the township eliminated the clerical position, and appraisers had to do the work. New laws have also created additional tasks.

There has also been an increase in new building requirements, which require a lot from employees, she said.

"It involves a lot of work going back to check on property," she said.

There are a lot of other tasks the department needs to complete, like personal property audits and full appraisals of all property in the township.

"There are many things my department should be, would be, could be doing if we had another employee," she said.

Sieloff said she has been using a part time employee to complete the work, but due to a large increase in building permits, a full-time employee is needed.

She also found past staff were not adding important information to the tax roll, so she has been busy correcting mistakes. Sieloff also said it's important to make sure assessors have the most accurate and up to date information for properties in the township-because that information is what adds money to the township tax roll.

In 2012, the township Board of Review found several discrepancies regarding house classes, and homes in the township were in need of updated appraisals. The assessing team visited every home in the community, took photos of the property and updated records.

She said it's impossible to visit every township property, so the department used mass appraisals.

In March, Sieloff told The Clarkston News, "It is physically impossible for us to apply that same methodology for our assessments. So, we use mass appraisal, which involves grouping everybody together having similar or like characteristics."

A special software also allows assessors to see parcel and see new property additions, which could add value and increase taxable value.

According to the Michigan Municipal League, the amount of property taxes raised by a municipality has a direct impact on the municipality's funding and budget process.

Assessing properties in addition to collecting taxes and conducting elections is one of the three constitutional powers and responsibilities bestowed upon communities. General Property Tax Act is a set of legal requirements communities must administer.

Staff writer
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