With continued building booms in Fort Mill, Lake Wylie, Tega Cay and other parts of York County, somebody has to appraise all that property. And the county needs help.
“We’re over 2,000 permits behind right now,” Kevin Madden, assistant county manager, told York County Council when the group met Dec. 18. “They’re not keeping up. It’s a staffing issue.”
Council voted 4-2 that night to approve two new appraiser positions for the tax assessor’s office. The county has a backlog, and there was some discussion on bringing in temporary workers to help catch up rather than adding new positions. County staff recommended otherwise.
“We need full-time people, two more additional people in there, to stay afloat in that department,” Madden said. “Right now they’re starting to drown.”
Appraisals are needed for new home permits, additions, reappraisals. Every home sale needs one. Every five years, so does a countywide reassessment. Councilman Robert Winkler couldn’t recall “how many thousands of permits” the county completes annually, but he recently plugged numbers in to see how many the current staff could do at 40 hours a work week, 50 weeks a year.
“If that’s true, then they have to complete an appraisal every 15 minutes to be able to do it,” Winkler said.
Which was plenty reason enough for him to bring on the two new positions.
“We need staff, because I don’t think you can do a real good appraisal on a property in 15 minutes,” Winkler said. “I know when I bought my property, it took that lady a whole lot longer than 15 minutes to do the appraisal on my property.”
Councilwoman Christi Cox, who with Councilman Michael Johnson voted against the hires, referenced an earlier meeting where she left with the impression temporary help could catch the county up on appraisals. Then she found out it could take the two new hires and temporary help.
“You add on two new folks and then you don’t ever get rid of them,” Cox said. “The bigger question was, should these folks really be temp folks? Is the work that we really need to have happen, catching up with the software and hiring those folks to get the job done?”
York County approved a software upgrade that could help, but to date hasn’t started using it. Computer-aided mass appraisal, or CAMA, software is designed to speed up the appraisal process.
“CAMA is the software that is needed to handle these appraisals,” Johnson said. “This council voted as part of its budget two years ago to approve CAMA, and I voted against that budget, and CAMA has still not been purchased, bought or implemented by this county, and we raised taxes to do that.”
Johnson understands the software issue and the two new hires may be somewhat different issues, but they are related.
“Any time you raise taxes you have a duty, I believe, to the taxpayer to actually spend their money and use it wisely,” he said. “And we have sat on that money for two years. And that is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Council had the balance the current appraisal need with what may happen when building and sales aren’t as rampant. Temporary workers are easy enough to scale back on when demand subsides. Full-time employees aren’t.
“There is some sense to looking at temporary workers when you know you may not need that position full-time,” Johnson said.
Bill Shanahan, county manager, said a new department director came in and looked at current staffing levels compared to the appraisal need, and to what other public bodies have in place.
“It showed those two positions were needed,” he said. “That’s a completely separate issue from the CAMA.”
Madden said he wouldn’t expect a decreased appraisal need at least for a few years. In time there could be attrition in the department which the county could use to balance jobs and workload, or the county could find more help is needed. Whatever happens in coming years, Madden said it’s important to get the work done the right way now.
“To ensure we have a fair tax base, where everybody is paying what they need to be paying, it’s critical that department is properly staffed,” he said.