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Commission wants petition submitted

Staff writer

Marion County commissioners decided to ask Gary Diepenbrock, of Lincolnville, to submit a petition asking for the dismissal of County Appraiser Cindy Magill, which he began circulating after an Aug. 24 meeting with commissioners.

“I’m not going to let this sit out there festering for six months,” Commission Chairman Dan Holub said.

Commissioners made the decision Monday while meeting with Magill and the rest of the appraiser’s department staff. Employees said they have noticed a sharp increase in hostility toward them since Diepenbrock’s meeting with the commission.

Several employees said encounters with taxpayers in the field have remained mostly uneventful. More callers and visitors to the office have been hostile though, office assistant Sarah Schrader said.

The state recently changed the way mobile homes are appraised, so the department sent out letters asking for the needed information. In response, one taxpayer went to the office and confronted staff members.

“In 12 years, I’ve never felt so threatened,” Debbie Bowman said, noting she wasn’t even the person dealing with the taxpayer.

She said another taxpayer was in the office at the time. After the confrontation was over, that taxpayer repeatedly said how surprised they were to see someone act that way.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said the petition was directed at Magill, rather than the entire office. But several employees said letters to the editor in county newspapers, as well as calls and office visits, call out the entire department.

Deputy Appraiser Debra Weidenheimer said she thought the circulation of the petition led to anger toward the entire department. She also suggested that people claiming Magill is rude need to look in the mirror. Weidenheimer said she had seen Magill calmly sit through a half-hour of verbal abuse that she herself wouldn’t put up with for a minute.

Magill said she didn’t feel commissioners supported the appraiser’s department. Appraisers are appointed to four-year terms in part to allow them to work without fear of losing their jobs because of personal vendettas.

Holub presented several pieces of information that he said showed Magill doesn’t arbitrarily try to increase property valuations. He said the state’s gradecards for appraiser show Magill is accurate, erring on the low side.

He also said comparing county valuations to real estate agents’ listings suggest Magill errs on the low side, rather than the high.

Several detractors said they don’t bother to appeal appraisals, because they are certain it won’t do any good. Holub said the department handled 365 appeals in 2006, of which 166 received adjustments.

There was a tense moment between Holub and Dallke, as Holub spoke about people being unnecessarily negative about the appraiser’s department. Dallke asked if Holub’s comments were directed at him.

Dallke said video and audio recording in the appraiser’s office would prevent he-said/she-said disputes about the treatment of taxpayers.

He also said that appraiser’s employees should leave a confrontation, rather than attempting to convince them. If a confrontation is at the office, employees should ask a hostile taxpayer to leave. Holub supported the advice, saying the low probability of convincing an irate taxpayer isn’t worth the risk to employees.

Last modified Oct. 1, 2009

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