Matthew Penrod of Vanguard Appraisals and Sully County Director of  Equalization Leanne Loesch

Accurately valuing Sully County

Matthew Penrod of Vanguard Appraisals has been working with new Sully County Director of Equalization Leanne Loesch on the county-wide property value reassessment.

Matt is on the staff of Vanguard Appraisals of Cedar Rapids, IA. Robert Ehler, President of Vanguard, says Vanguard has been completing reappraisal projects for county governments in seven states for the past 52 years. Vanguard also develops appraisal software specially designed for the Assessor’s office. Sully County has been using Vanguards software since 2014.

Matt has been in Sully County for the past two months updating Sully County property records to make sure they are accurate.

“We go out to the house and make sure all details about the home are correct,” said Matt about his visits to Sully County properties. When he visits, Matt makes sure that the records in the Director of Equalization’s office are accurate and up to date. Matt will measure structures to verify the size and gather all information necessary to determine an accurate value. Including basement size, basement finish, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms and more.

“That’s why it’s important for people to understand that if I can get into the home and do a walkthrough, then I can get full details about the home. The inspection gives us the information we need to determine an accurate value.”

A resident of Iowa, Matt will be in the area for a year conducting the mass appraisal. He’s been working for Vanguard for six years, and says that anyone with a strong math background has the skills required to appraise property. “Anybody with good math skills could do the job,” said Matt. “There’s a ton to learn. I learn something new every day, and I’ve been told by senior appraisers that you should never stop learning on this job because there’s too much to learn.”

In order to conduct the county-wide reappraisal, Matt is going door to door. “After the second time I stop at a home if I don’t catch the property owner, I leave a pink tag that lists a website they can go to answer the questions I would have asked if they had been home. If I do not catch them at home, this information is also helpful in making sure we base the value on accurate information.

Each stop in the country takes about 15 minutes, depending on the number of ag buildings on a property. “In the country, the time varies,” explains Matt. “The more buildings, the longer it takes. With ag buildings, I need to make sure the buildings and the condition they are in are labeled correctly.”

For instance, if a barn constructed in 1920 is in poor condition, the property owner “doesn’t want it thought of as being in good condition,” said Matt. “It messes up the value of the building.” Values are based on the condition of the buildings that are there.

“I’m pleased with this county,” said Matt of the accuracy of the assessment record, noting that often is not the case. Matt says that he sometimes finds that structures have been removed and property owners are being taxed on a building that’s no longer there. “Sully County’s previous assessors have done a good job of checking properties,” he continued. “But it’s the property owner’s responsibility to notify the county if structures have been removed or added.”

To ensure the safety of property owners, Matt is required to wear a name badge whenever he is on the job. His photo, personal and auto information is also on record that the County Sheriffs’ office and the Director of Equalization’s office. Property owners can call to verify that Matt is the person doing the inspections.

While working in his official capacity, Matt has had a couple of property owners refuse entry to their property. He says that is disappointing as we still need to value the property but will now have to do so using information we were not able to verify.

Another roadblock Matt has run into is concerns about COVID safety. “It’s fine if you don’t want me in the house because of the pandemic, but please answer my questions so I have accurate paperwork.”

People have also questioned why Matt works on Saturdays. “I’ve had people ask ‘Why are you working on a Saturday? Government offices aren’t open on Saturdays,’” said Matt. “I’m not a government employee, I’m under contract to complete the county-wide appraisal, and Saturdays are my best day, when I catch people at home and get answers to my questions.”

The reappraisal project is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2021. Additional commercial appraisers and review appraisers will be in the county in the summer/fall of 2021 helping Matt finalize the project.

All property owners will be notified of the new assessed value determined by Vanguard in early 2022. Vanguard will also conduct private one on one meetings with any property owners who have concerns or questions with their new assessed value. Matt says, at the completion of the project our goal is accurate assessments that are calculated in a consistent and fair manner.

The county-wide appraisal is required by state law. Sully County’s last mass appraisal was fifteen years ago.

Anyone with concerns is encouraged to call Sully Count Director of Equalization Leanne Loesch at 605-258-2522.

Courthouse work a family tradition for new DOE

Sully County native Leanne Loesch has been serving as Sully County’s Director of Equalization since 10-14-2020. Leanne joins her mom Dianne Dalton and her sister Lynette Murphy in having a courthouse job here in Sully County.

My mother worked in the courthouse when she was in high school and newly married,” said Leanne. “My identical twin Lynette Murphy is the Register of Deeds.”

For the past 26 + years, Leanne worked for the State of South Dakota, for Central Mail as an automated mail processor and when needed, drove mail truck for Central Supply where she filled state supply orders for state offices and operated a forklift, and then the Department of Revenue. She started as a receptionist for the DOR, and ended her tenure with the state as a lead worker in the DOR’s Remit Center as an Accounting Assistant.

“It was a high demand, high stress job,” said Leanne. “I was looking for something different.”

Leanne saw an opportunity in the Director of Equalization position.

“I have seen the differences between county and state work,” said Leanne. “I’m from Sully County. I love it here, and I love and know everyone here.”

Leanne now makes her home in Hughes County, but lives just 20 miles outside Onida. “The position was not filled yet and I decided to give it a shot,” said Leanne. “I have ties to Sully County, and they are familiar with my work ethic.”

Saying that she finds the “details of the different properties and the plats amazing,” Leanne was surprised to learn so much about the county she grew up in. “The GIS work that [Sully County Planning and Zoning Administrator] Janet [Schmahl] does is so interesting. It’s amazing to learn about these properties that I didn’t know existed.”

Leanne says that she has gained new appreciation for how the county has grown since her childhood in examining the records in the county assessor’s office. “The records in the office, both old and new, it’s amazing to see how Sully County has grown since I was young.”

According to Leanne, the most challenging aspect of her position is ensuring that land sales and transfers are correct. She relates that she’ll probably implement a system for self-auditing. “I will be auditing myself,” said Leanne. “I’ve learned so much in the past two months. Going back my early work I found some mistakes and fixed them.”

Vanguard Appraisal’s Matt Penrod has added to Leanne’s training. “She has gone out with me in the field,” said Matt. “I’m helping her learn how to list the way we list. She’s going to list the same way I would, so all the records will be the same.”

“I’m very happy to be here and to have this chance,” said Leanne. “Normally, the Director of Equalization would be a Sully County resident. I live 20 miles away; I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I hope I can do county proud.”