Cass evaluating equalizationPublished 2:53pm Friday, February 8, 2013
CASSOPOLIS — Cass County is unique in Michigan in having outsourced its entire equalization operation to Manatron in Portage.
County Administrator Louis Csokasy recommended to the Board of Commissioners Feb. 7 that the contract expiring June 30 not be renewed so the county can re-establish its department.
Csokasy further proposes sharing an equalization director with neighboring St. Joseph County, since the anticipated $204,000 cost compares unfavorably with the current $142,500 expenditure.
Cass County spent an average $155,220 a year with Manatron over the last five years.
“The job done, from my perspective, is questionable,” Csokasy said. “I’ve talked to all (six) of the assessors, save one, and they share my view, plus we’ve received a number of letters from the state that are not very complimentary.”
The state asked him to attend a meeting in Lansing with the equalization director on Oct. 24, 2012.
“At that meeting they were very clear that the equalization process ongoing has been and is currently not acceptable,” according to Csokasy. “They requested that I investigate the equalization process at Cass and develop some fixes to the issues that have been raised … (Assessors) consistently cited the fact that no one was available for them to consult with when issues arise and lateness or missing of necessary reports. They also indicated that this has been ongoing for a number of years, but have ‘given up’ on getting it corrected. In discussions with selected township supervisors, I have heard the same complaint. One supervisor out of frustration threatened to sue the county last year over unavailable information.”
Csokasy and Chairman Skip Dyes attended an executive board meeting in St. Joseph County where the issue was discussed.
“Preliminary indications are that St. Joseph is interested in pursuing a shared equalization director position driven by increased state requirements and pending retirements in their equalization department,” Csokasy said. “This should allow Cass County to get the properly credentialed individual at a reasonable cost. In addition to the director, I am recommending that we hire an assistant director with a credential (or a commitment to acquire) of a MAAO, an appraiser at a level MCAO and a shared administrative staff person.”
Building of the department would span a two-year time frame, “so the additional cost would have a delayed impact,” he added.
“My discussions with Manatron have not been pleasant. Right now our equalization staff is down to one,” Csokasy said. “Hours are from 9 to 11 on Mondays and Wednesdays. None of them live in Cass County and getting them on the phone sometimes proves difficult. The contract requires two permanent people here and there are none. We could get by with a Level III, to use the old term, as equalization director. If we join another county, we have to get a Level IV, which increases the cost because they’re very difficult to find in the state right now. I’m advocating the middle ground: re-establish an equalization department within the county and partner with St. Joe to share a director,” as the two counties did with him for Road Commission.
The county reaps about $100,000 from townships related to equalization work, Csokasy said. “We’re one of two counties in the state using software we use. We need to upgrade anyway for a one-time purchase of about $36,000,” plus $12,000 for furniture to “co-locate” the department with the administrator’s office.
If commissioners concur, he will bring forth the necessary motions Feb. 21.