KEARNEY — Buffalo County Assessor Ethel Skinner and five of her staff members will be training on software developed for county officials to help with accurate and consistent tax valuations.

In addition, two staff members who specialize in assessing commercial property are scheduled for training Oct. 2 in their area of emphasis, and Skinner will attend training this fall by the International Association of Assessment Officials.

The various training sessions are part of a seven-step response the assessor’s office is launching after complaints about the accuracy of tax valuations in Buffalo County, which has averaged more than 2,100 valuation protests annually for the past three years and has hired referees at an annual cost of $150,000 to $160,000 to hear the protests.

Bill McMullen of Kearney, who chairs the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners, worked with Skinner to develop the seven-step program that began last week when two representatives of the Nebraska Property Tax Administrator Office observed operations in the assessor’s office. They will put their observations in writing and hand it back to Buffalo County for follow-up.

Skinner said she’s optimistic that the various training sessions in assessor software and techniques will put her staff “on the same page” as they work to make the county’s valuations more accurate and consistent.

McMullen reported to the board of commissioners on the progress of the assessor’s office in addressing the consistency and accuracy issues.

He said step one has been achieved. It was the Aug. 5 visit by the property tax administrator personnel. Step two is the training schedule, which gets under way Monday when Skinner and five staff members receive training on MIPS (Multi-County Information and Programming Services), the software Buffalo County uses for tax valuations.

In the third step, McMullen has asked the assessor to flag all assessments that increase by 5 percent or more or that decrease that much. McMullen also wants the assessor to flag valuations that have not changed in two years so the board of commissioners is aware of those situations.

Step four involves sending preliminary valuation notices on Feb. 1 so property owners can work with the assessor’s office to correct mistakes, rather than filing protests and resorting to the referee process later in the year.

In step five, the assessor’s office will send notices to various classes of property owners reminding them of filing dates and deadlines.

Step six will involve town hall meetings to educate the public about the assessment process.

The final step is underway, McMullen said, because he has appointed an advisory committee to work with the assessor’s office. Committee members include Kearney real estate agents Rocky Geiser, Nicole Straka and Matt Meister, and commissioners Myron Kouba of Kearney, Dennis Reiter of Elm Creek and McMullen.

“I see the advisory committee as an ad hoc committee that would meet up until March,” McMullen said.

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