KEARNEY — Local real estate agent Robert Fitzgerald will ask the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners for support in fixing the county’s tax valuation problems.
That task may not get much cooperation from Buffalo County Assessor Ethel Skinner, he said.
“I’m going to challenge them on what’s taking place,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve also gone in and talked to the county assessor. That was an interesting meeting, to say the least.”
According to Fitzgerald, after he spoke with Skinner for about 10 minutes she asked him to leave.
“I have a fair amount of street cred (credibility) in this community as being a bridge builder, but I see no hope,” Fitzgerald said about his attempt to speak with Skinner. “I went in there and asked, ‘What can we do to fix this?’”
Fitzgerald said recent news reports may have Skinner feeling distrustful of people.
“She must feel like her back is against the wall,” he said. “As realtors we deal with the county assessor. It’s really important to try to develop good relationships, but this particular assessor is quite a case. I’m astonished by the adversarial attitude she has toward the county board.”
The Hub attempted to contact Skinner about Fitzgerald’s push to fix the valuation problems and why she told him to leave her office. The Hub phoned the assessor’s office at 12:45 p.m. Friday, but Skinner was gone for the day, according to the person who answered.
“It was unprofessional. It was toxic,” Fitzgerald said about his brief meeting with Skinner.
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For the past three years, Buffalo County has averaged 2,124 valuation protests per year.
This year, there have been 1,982 protests. Buffalo County Clerk Jan Giffin said July 1 was the mailing deadline, so a few more protests might arrive by Monday.
Giffin must schedule hearings for every protest. The county currently is in its third year using independent referees to hear the protests. Hiring the referees costs the county $155,000 to $159,000 annually, according to records.
Fitzgerald said it would be helpful if the money spent on referees were available to hire more people for the assessor’s office. He said it’s unfortunate the county has spent so much on referees, and, yet, the valuation problems are growing worse instead of being resolved.
Already this year the Board of Commissioners has had to vote four times to approve valuation corrections for errors made by the assessor’s office. On Tuesday, according to the agenda, the county board will vote on a list of 21 errors.
Among errors corrected June 25 by the Board of Commissioners, the assessor’s office had valued a property in Gibbon at $102,910, even though the house had burned down in 2018. The county board approved an amended valuation of $3,135 for the burned property.
Fitzgerald has been a real estate agent for 13 years and works for Home Real Estate of Kearney. He was president of the Buffalo County Board of Realtors in 2018.
He said he is inviting other agents and appraisers to attend Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting. “I’ve asked a few people in the industry if they’d add their two cents. We have done a lot of comparables for individuals so they can protest their valuations. I’ve protested mine for the past several years.”
Fitzgerald said many property owners believe their tax valuations may be inaccurate, but they’re intimidated and they don’t protest.
“We need an assessor with a commitment to work with the county board to correct this. Right now it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” Fitzgerald said.
The Buffalo County Board of Commissioners meets 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Buffalo County Justice Center. The board’s regular meeting room is being used for valuation protests.