Carbon Commissioners Receive Assessor’s Department Update

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Following a great number of concerns raised in regard to the Carbon County Assessor’s Office, a department update was presented to the commissioners during their meeting on March 20.

Beginning the update, Assessor Gillan Bishop had requested to speak. He stated that one thing his office focused on was licensure and getting the employees out to ensure that those are completed. Ultimately, Bishop reported that the training gap is being closed and it is something that he is pleased about. He began a detailed review and stated that part of the state of Utah’s concerns was one of the areas that was done last year.

The state was looking to conduct an audit, though Bishop said they opted not to in favor of asking for it to be detailed in a review. Now that the detailed review portion is done, Bishop informed the commissioners that they were moving onto reports.

Already, there were about 25 that have been shared with the commission that go over everything from primary residential pieces of land to possibly ones that have no improvements. Bishop said one main thing to look at is capturing all correct characteristics and the evaluation side of things will begin soon.

Bishop said one of his points in reporting this is to show that several things have been done, and one thing he is passionate about is the progress that has been made by his staff. He brought an example of a flip folder that every employee now has on their desk, outlining steps and details.

According to Bishop, when he stepped into the role three years ago several things were missing but PUMA, the program used in the office, was there and had been set up. He continued the process as it had been set up and used. This year, he identified some inefficiencies and pushed to have them changed. Right now, there are additional areas that the office is keeping an eye on, such as commercial contracts. In working with the state, Bishop said that they have been getting green lights and have moved in very strong strides to make needed improvements.

“I’m proud of the employees that I have and I’m proud of the improvements and the efforts they’ve been putting in,” Bishop shared.

Following his report, Commission Chair Larry Jensen stated that, up to this point, the commissioners have made an effort to report to the public what has happened over the years. He gave a brief overview of the issues that have been extensively covered in the past, sharing that Bishop’s staff would come to the commissioners with concerns as their work was logged into the system under their name.

Commissioner Jensen then stated that Bishop takes credit, but it is what Kevin Ewell has completed in straightening the office up. The county hired Ewell when they saw that there was a real need for correction. He is a licensed General Appraiser who worked in the Utah County Assessor’s Office for many years as the Deputy Chief.

Now, Ewell has a private firm who teaches assessor classes for the State Tax Commission while also helping counties with challenges such as this. Commissioners Jensen stated that the commission does not believe that Bishop would have put in the time to straighten these issues out.

However, with the help of Ewell, the county is comfortable that the 2024 tax roll will be accurate. From there, Commissioner Tony Martines reminded all that this is an election season and that the commission has only increased taxes one time. He said to increase taxes, by state statute, there must be public hearings. There has not been one in some time and the oddities that are creating the tax problems are coming directly from the assessor’s office.

Commissioner Martines said there is an old saying that you can fool the fans, but you can’t fool the players, and those in the game that work closely every day know what is going on. This gives the commission no choice but to address the matter.

Ewell then gave his update, beginning with the fact that it is been a challenge to get information out of Bishop in regard to what his processes are and what is being accomplished. Ewell has been working with Carbon County for six months and he said that firstly, he found PUMA disorganized and not planned out. He requested standards of practice for the office and was told that they were not written out, which is something that is extremely important for an assessor’s office.

This led to the flip folders that Bishop presented, which Ewell stated is a step in the right direction, but still not the guide book. He then gave some examples of inconsistent resident values across the county before reporting that two employees are doing more detailed reviews and there are two that are only checking boxes and are not properly trained.

Ewell pointed out that when there are lines that are blurred, there are inequities. He also spoke on a lack of certifications and trainings and how he himself started the process of dividing the county and cities into neighborhoods. He looked at sales by each individual subdivision, price per square foot, age, size of buildings and more. This was taken to Bishop about three weeks ago and Ewell asked him to look at it. Last week, Bishop went through it and divided it using a lasso tool, meaning that Ewell had to go back in and work on things once more.

At the conclusion of his report, Ewell stated that he does not believe this is all Bishop’s fault and he believes that he inherited a system that was not put together right. Ewell also said that he did not intend his report to be negative, but that he is a matter-of-fact kind of person.

Following more brief discussion, the commissioners concluded the meeting for the evening.

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