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Commissioners criticize assessor’s request

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | September 28, 2022 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Despite reservations about the hefty cost, Kootenai County commissioners reaffirmed their decision Tuesday to allow Assessor Bela Kovacs to hire a private company to conduct property appraisals and assist with training personnel.

Commissioners voted 2-1 on the request last week, with Bill Brooks opposing.

The estimated cost of the work and services to be performed by Highland Appraisal Inc. under the proposed agreement is $260,000, plus other expenses for travel, lodging, meals, mileage and materials.

The commissioners revisited the request Tuesday due to questions about its necessity.

Kovacs said there are about 1,600 new construction sites that need to be appraised. Highland staff is needed due to vacancies in his own office, he said, as well as problems with the county’s computer system.

Deputy Finance Director Keith Taylor questioned the long-term impact of hiring a private company to perform the appraisals.

“Those valuations have been done by employees in the past and now we’re outsourcing,” he said. “Is that a Band-Aid?”

The Assessor’s Office is down five residential appraisers. Three new hires need to be trained.

Brooks criticized Kovacs, saying he’s not fulfilling his responsibilities.

“$200,000 plus expenses is a heck of a lot to spend on a Band-Aid for (Kovacs’) job because he’s not doing it,” Brooks said.

Commissioners recently cut Kovacs’ pay in half from about $90,000 to $45,000, citing a failure to perform the duties of his office. Kovacs missed multiple deadlines this year and ultimately delivered the 2022 property values more than a month late.

Chris Fillios noted that commissioners likely wouldn’t approve hiring a private company for other elected officials who failed in their duties, but acknowledged the additional staffing is needed to meet future state deadlines.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “But I’m not going to punish the people of Kootenai County for the actions of one elected official.”

Kovacs blamed his office’s missed deadlines largely on a previous Board of County Commissioners, who approved the computer system that he said is inadequate.

Brooks pushed back on that explanation.

“You’ve put a burden on the Assessor’s Office and a terrible burden on the taxpayers,” he said.

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Bill Buley contributed to this report.