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Island County takes aim at property tax backlog

A finding this month by the Washington State auditor’s office pointed out what Island County already knows: the county is backlogged on processing property tax supplements.

The finding states that “Island County lacked adequate internal controls to ensure timely processing of property tax adjustments.”

However, the county started efforts last year to catch up on the backlog and estimates they should be caught up by June of next year, according to Island County Treasurer Ana Maria Nunez.

Nunez said the county has struggled with keeping up with the property supplements since she started in 2005. Nunez said the county was on the verge of catching up by 2008 when the recession forced the county to lay off employees, including one full-time employee in the treasurer’s office followed by another in 2009.

Prior to 2008, the county had one full-time employee dedicated to processing supplements. With the loss of two employees, now only 30 percent of a single employee’s work week was dedicated to supplements, Nunez said.

In addition, the county was mandated to update its software in the assessor and treasurer’s offices in 2010, which brought its own layer of challenges.

“There was a lack of personnel, and we had a couple of huge issues with the conversion which further added to the supplemental backlog,” Nunez said.

According to the state auditor, the software conversion led to the misplacement of 1,800 supplements. And, as of August 2013, the state found 2,411 unprocessed property supplements ranging from one month to one year old, according to the audit.

“When things happen, they snowball,” Nunez said. “When you’re drowning in supplements and you don’t have the time or personnel to handle it, people are obviously upset.”

In early 2012, Island County commissioners authorized a full-time employee dedicated to addressing the county’s backlog. And in recent budget talks for the 2014 year, the board has tentatively authorized continuing that position to ensure the backlog is addressed.

The Island County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget Oct. 7 before adopting a final draft.

Nunez said that in addition to the full-time employee dedicated to catching up the tax supplements, they have also allotted half the work week of a second employee to speed up the process.

“Barring any emergencies, we should be caught up by June,” Nunez said.

Moving forward, the county plans to keep a full-time employee on the property tax supplements to ensure they are processed in a timely way.

Supplemental taxes are additional secured taxes that are due when property undergoes a change in ownership or new construction. The additional tax is owed because the county assessor is required to immediately adjust the January 1 value to reflect the new value of the property. The supplemental tax is due upon the mailing of the bill. It is payable in two installments.

 

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