County to review tax system for mobile homes

A new computer system for appraising mobile homes has some owners in Ward County facing significant increases in their property taxes.

On Tuesday, the Ward County Commission held a hearing regarding the payment of taxes under protest by ERA and 5 Musketeers, which own numerous mobile homes in parks in the Minot area. The protest was over valuations on 85 of those homes.

ERA and 5 Musketeers offered independent appraisals on their mobile homes, including one that suggested a 13 percent decline in value even though the county had assessed a 52 percent increase.

Information from the sister companies also showed a 250 percent increase in county assessment on one mobile home and a 43 percent decrease on another comparable mobile home in the same park. The discrepancy had the owners questioning whether the county’s new software is meant for mass appraisals of mobile homes.

The commission took no action on the protested taxes, which have been partially paid and are being held in escrow for now. Instead, commissioners want to meet with a representative of Vanguard, the software company, to learn more about how the assessment system works.

County tax director Pam Axtman said her office switched to the software this past year, having previously assessed mobile homes using a system similar to the Blue Book method for determining the value of automobiles. The new software relies on sales price comparisons, along with general information about the mobile homes and parks, to determine values.

This new method of using sales comparisons is affecting some valuations significantly because of what has been happening in the market. The selling prices of mobile homes shot up after the 2011 flood when affordable housing was at a premium.

Axtman said there will need to be some adjustments to ensure accurate data is in the computer system going forward. She reviewed the protested ERA and 5 Musketeer properties and made adjustments to some.

However, Axtman said, she received only about 50 calls from concerned owners countywide after sending about 2,500 tax statements under the new program.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the commission also addressed a payment dispute with R&K Contractors on the county office building. The company sent a letter to the county earlier this month, threatening to quit unless it received the $189,138 that it had not yet been paid and outlining various grievances related to work order changes, deficiencies in contract specifications and delays caused by the county’s failure to respond to concerns.

EAPC, the architectural firm overseeing the project for the county, replied to the letter to challenge the assertions and cite deficiencies in R&K’s performance.

County engineer Dana Larsen told the commission that any payment delay was the result of a three-week span between commission meetings, at which bills are approved. He also reiterated EAPC’s remarks in the letter that payment can’t be made in full until R&K finishes remaining work and problems with the installation of the entry floor tile are corrected.