Germantown - The village board’s recent decision to hire Associated Appraisal Consultants Inc. of Appleton may not end the controversies surrounding how the village has assessed properties for real estate taxes for the past several years.
The assessed value of property established by the village helps determine how much individual property owners will pay in real estate taxes.
Computer software consultant Andy Pelkey says because of errors made by the village’s previous property assessment firm there is no way to accurately know the values of properties in the village and all properties should be revalued by a new appraisal firm.
Pelkey is a resident of Franklin but owns residential property in Germantown.
Village officials disagree with him.
Village President Dean Wolter said most of the previous assessment firm’s errors were record-keeping omissions that did not significantly impact property value assessments.
Wolter believes that the difference between the fair market value of village real estate and assessed value is about 2 to 3 percent, well within a 5-percent state guideline.
If there were a wider margin between fair market and assessed value, the village would be receiving complaints from property owners and, so far, there have been very few, Wolter added.
The village is planning a reassessment of all property in 2019, according to the village president.
There has been an ongoing battle between village officials and Pelkey over whether the village has fairly and equitability assessed property for taxes during the past seven years.
Although Pelkey is not a certified assessor, he claims to have knowledge of the assessment process through his work developing software programs for assessors.
Village officials argue Pelkey’s objections are biased since he works for Assessment Technologies, a company owned by Michael Grota, who also owns Grota Appraisals of Menomonee Falls.
Grota Appraisals served as Germantown village assessor until 2009, when the firm was replaced by Accurate Appraisal of Menasha because Accurate Appraisal submitted a lower-priced proposal for assessment services.
In addition, Wolter pointed out, Accurate Appraisal is one of the few assessment firms in the state that does not use software designed by Pelkey.
However, Pelkey’s persistent complaints about how Accurate Appraisal was assessing property triggered a Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) investigation that began in 2012 and ended in 2014.
As a result of the investigation, James Danielson, one of the owners of Accurate Appraisal, surrendered his state assessor certification for a minimum of six months after the department alleged he engaged in misconduct when he reduced assessed valuations of some properties in the village.
Pelkey has been highly critical of the village for not severing its relationship with Accurate Appraisal after the state investigation.
Wolter said the village wanted to give Accurate Appraisal an opportunity to correct its mistakes and continued its contract in 2015.
However, in 2016, the village did not renew Accurate Appraisals’ contract after it learned from the DOR that the firm was still not providing the village with required documentation of their work.
In December, the village board approved a three-year contract with Associated Appraisal Consultants Inc.
The company will perform assessment duties from 2017 through 2019 for $85,000 a year and in 2017 will be paid an additional $30,000 to bring the village’s assessment records into compliance with the state Department of Revenue.
Ironically, Associated Appraisals is one of Pelkey’s software consulting clients at Assessment Technologies.
According to Pelkey, 65 percent of the individual property tax records in the village are lacking information that could be necessary to make a “credible” assessment of the property’s value.
Accurate Appraisal allowed cost-design adjustments to be made on 6,500 of the 6,668 residential properties within the village, according to Pelkey.
The cost design adjustment, which can result in lowering the assessed value, is a rarely used assessment tool, Pelkey said.
Because of the methods Accurate Appraisal used, there is no way to credibly determine whether the property assessments in the village are uniform and equitable as required by state law, according to Pelkey.
“The problem is nobody knows how those values were established. The village does not know. The DOR does not know and the new assessor does not know,” Pelkey said.
Wolter rebuts that Accurate Appraisals’ methods for assessments have not been challenged, only their record keeping, and he expressed confidence the village’s property assessments were accurate, fair and equitable.