Written by Jerry Engler Tuesday, 29 September 2009 12:58
County Appraiser Cindy Magill and eight of her department employees came before the Marion County Commission Monday to say “enough is enough.”
They want commission support and recognition that their personal safety is important in the face of increased public criticisms, too often profane abuse from patrons, and continued attempts to get Magill dismissed from her office by a circulating petition.
Magill and the employees want the petition results decided and acted on one way or the other by the commissioners before it contributes to more threats and abuse.
They also blamed the bad economy, job lay-offs and public disgust at handling of the national economy for growing local unhappiness in paying taxes.
Commissioner Bob Hein said he regularly hears the same public discontent.
The commissioners agreed with the appraiser’s office employees and said they will ask that petitions calling for dismissal of Magill under leadership of Lincolnville Cattleman Gary Diepenbrock be turned into them within two weeks.
One employee said she had worked for the appraiser’s office for 12 years and had never been so frightened as she is now by abusive language and aggressive attitudes from patrons. She said one patron appeared about ready to hit another employee, who already is dealing with recovery from surgery, in the face, and “we have no way to hit a 911 or panic button.
“I’m afraid that we could get the true psychotic in there who is mad at the world, and we would just be sitting there as targets.”
Another employee said when she answers the phone, she never knows if someone will open by screaming at her.
“I’m just here trying to do my job as best as I can, and make a living,” she said.”I hadn’t ought to have to take this kind of abuse when all I am trying to do is help people.”
The eight employees—other than Magill—joined to refute allegations from Diepenbrock that Magill is abusive to the public. They said the public is abusive to them.
The eight said recent allegations in a letter to the editor that they are continually pressured to increase rates on property valuations are false.
One employee said she and another employee working on reappraisals while eating lunch in Tampa had been threatened with being shot if they set foot on a man’s property.
“All we were doing was supporting their community by doing our work and eating in their restaurant,” she said.
Commission Chairman Dan Holub said he is very concerned and sickened by the entire situation of threats against appraiser’s opinions. He noted that the threat of being shot had been made to employees on multiple occasions, and in one a firearm actually was discharged.
He said the appraiser and her employees are just trying to do their jobs, and they aren’t responsible for the amount of taxes or dissatisfaction with the property tax as a means of raising tax revenue.
He said the three commissioners—himself, Randy Dallke and Hein—are responsible to set taxes under the property tax levy for the county as are entities such as school districts and cities. The State of Kansas sets the rules on how it is done for fair and equitable taxation.
He said that even if Magill were able to cut property valuations in half, it wouldn’t help feelings because the commissioners then would have to double the tax levy for sufficient funds.
“I’m concerned with these public reactions,” Holub said. “It’s one thing when these people have to take abuse in downtown Marion, but we also have to send them out into the field, out on their own. We don’t have enough sheriff’s deputies to put one every square mile to protect them.
“The mood in the county seems to be changing to one of being more aggressive and vindictive.”
Dallke cautioned the employees to back away from confrontations rather than allowing them to accelerate. He said he wanted video cameras installed in the appraiser’s office for protection and verification of work.
Holub said that in response to the Diepenbrock petition, he has been checking Magill’s work record, and has found her work both conservative and above average in the state.
He read categories of appraisal ratings of Magill by the state for several years, consistently in the high 90s, “right where she should be.”
He said that criticisms of Magill are largely turning out to be “griping by people who didn’t get their way.”
Magill verified observations made by Holub—it is the state that watches the quality of her work and has the power to dismiss her if it is unsatisfactory.
“I follow the law,” she said. “If I didn’t my credentials would be taken away.
“I think Mr. Diepenbrock laid his cards on the table when he refused to meet with (me and the commissioners) to resolve this issue. This is a pure vendetta.”
The employees said they are finding multiple errors in appraisals of the past, including skipping of farm buildings obviously in use, misclassifications of houses such as calling a bungalow a standard house and others.
Holub said one disturbing set of errors included not listing Marion Reservoir, one school building and a grain storage facility as exempt properties in the county, thus costing the county tax credits from the state.
One employee said that Maggard and the entire department have been subject to “pure slander,” as well as abuse, and she wanted assurance from the commissioners that employees have their support in doing their work peacefully.
The commissioners assured them that they do, but they also said they have to hear public inputs in their capacities as elected officials.