Incompetence goes unpunished.

Published January 30, 2013, 12:00 AM

State disciplines St. Louis County township assessor

A private assessor responsible for valuing property in 25 townships in St. Louis County has been suspended for 90 days by the Minnesota Board of Assessors, a wing of the state Department of Revenue.

By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

(2012 file / News Tribune)

A private assessor responsible for valuing property in 25 townships in St. Louis County has been suspended for 90 days by the Minnesota Board of Assessors, a wing of the state Department of Revenue.

Jan Jackson, of Kelsey, also has been ordered to attend training and have her assessment work monitored and reviewed by the County Assessor’s office and the State Department of Revenue for two years.

The stipulation and consent order was signed Jan. 22 and made public Tuesday.

Any violation of the agreement would be considered a violation of state law and could lead to Jackson’s license being revoked, the order notes.

The penalty comes after a long investigation by the Department of Revenue, first reported in the News Tribune last March, into allegations that Jackson was missing some property and wrongly assessing the value of other properties in several townships.

Mark Monacelli, the county’s director of records who oversees the assessment process, said the state launched the investigation after the county discovered 71 parcels with a total market value of more than $4 million that were not on the tax rolls. At least 58 of those were substantiated by the state investigation.

Jackson and her family are responsible for assessing more townships than any other appraisers in St. Louis County.

In early 2012, after the county’s complaint was filed, the Department of Revenue conducted a spot-check on 10 random properties in Arrowhead, Solway and Wuori townships where Jackson assessed property. The stipulation order said “assessment errors were found on all parcels.”

Jackson’s work came under scrutiny when the state of Minnesota in 2011 ordered St. Louis County to reassess one of her townships after finding it was significantly undervalued — meaning that some residents of Solway Township paid less in property taxes than they should have, while other county taxpayers paid more.

“The main thing is that the Department of Revenue finished their investigation, confirmed the problems and took action,” Monacelli said Tuesday.

But Monacelli said the mistakes have continued, even during the state investigation. He said Jackson continued to miss additional properties before the suspension took effect.

“The problem continues today,” Monacelli said, adding that he had a new list with several new infractions by Jackson.

Jackson did not immediately return a reporter’s phone call Tuesday afternoon. But she told the News Tribune last March that she had done nothing wrong and was being targeted by the County Assessor’s office because officials wanted to take over assessing her client townships.

The News Tribune one year ago reported in several stories the problem of mixed assessment practices across St. Louis County. A blue-ribbon panel on assessments issued a majority report recommending that the county move to a single, county-operated assessment system.

The problem is that some property wasn’t being assessed at all — missed by assessors — while others might have been overvalued or undervalued because differing assessment principles were applied or mistakes made.

“This is an issue that affects all taxpayers, because if one isn’t paying enough, the rest of us are paying more,” Monacelli said.

Currently, assessments across the county are done by a mix of city, township, private and county assessors — depending on the local government — and county officials say assessments don’t always happen in a timely, uniform or fair manner.

Late last year, the city of Duluth agreed to hand over its assessor duties and staff to the county. But it remains unclear whether the County Board will take action to bring other cities and townships into the fold. The county can simply order the local governments to do so, but officials have hoped for an amicable agreement.

“If anyone really needed more evidence that we needed a single county system, I think this (state action) should suffice,” Monacelli said.

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