From T.R. Williams:
On August 3, Lawrence County Property Assessor Barbara Kizer and her staff were presented an Excellence in Operations Award from the Tennessee Association of Assessing Officers (TNAAO).
The award places our Assessor’s office in the TNAAO Hall of Fame along with Davidson, Bradley, Shelby and Knox Counties, which are previous honorees. Bradley is the closest in size to Lawrence County, but still has more than twice our population.
How does an office with six staff members, including our Property Assessor, earn the same recognition as larger counties that have more employees and bigger budgets? The answer is quality, not quantity.
It is fact, not opinion, that we have one of the most qualified Assessors in the state. Barbara is one of two Tennessee Master Assessors in the 95 counties, a hard-earned designation awarded through the State Board of Equalization.
She is one of five Cadastral (showing or recording property boundaries, subdivision lines, buildings, and related details) Mapping Specialists in Tennessee, a certification administered by the International Association of Assessing Officers. The test required manual mapping, without benefit of the computerized Geographic Information System (GIS) her office has had since 2009.
“I’m still taking classes,” she said. These help her keep up with changes in the (very complicated) world of Property Assessment, and retain those certifications.
The quality of our Property Assessor’s staff was specifically mentioned by TNAAO Executive Director Will Denami. “Barbara has done an excellent job cross-training the entire office and really provides an efficient operation for the taxpayers of Lawrence County,” he said. “Barbara and her team are a model for many counties across the state.” Her staff includes chief deputies April Fraley and Michelle Barnett; field appraiser Steve Andrews; and deputies Marsha Stepp and Tracy Dorning.
Each one, no matter what their title or primary duty, knows how to do every job in the office. Barbara started learning those jobs herself when she was hired in 1992. “Staff changes were one reason why, but I always wanted to learn everything about it. It wasn’t because I had aspirations to run for the office, because I didn’t. I just wanted to know and understand it.”
I’m happy that Barbara was convinced to seek office in 2004, and she is, too. “I am so glad I decided to run for Assessor of Property,” she said. “I love my job and am so blessed to work with each and every one of my staff members. We all enjoy serving the people of Lawrence County.”
Lawrence County is fortunate that she continues to serve as our Assessor, because it is an enormous job. Explaining everything that’s required of her office would take much more time than you or I have, but I will share the basics.
It’s the Property Assessor’s job to measure and list all real property, which is land and buildings; and assess personal property, which is the equipment, machinery and raw materials (not finished goods) owned by a business. Businesses are required to report their personal property each year, and the state chooses a number at random to visit and audit.
Any change in the ownership of land – through sales, transfers, or divisions – is recorded with the Register of Deeds. That information then comes to the Assessor’s office so that its records, including maps, can be updated.
This is where cross-training is really valuable, Barbara explained. Each employee can take a deed “from start to finish” and make changes to all the records the office has for that piece of property. No part of that job can fall through the cracks as it goes from person to person. In addition to daily duties everyone shares, April Fraley and Michelle Barnett have leadership roles in the office. Marsha Stepp also specializes in personal property issues; Tracy Dorning works on every part of the process and customer service.
Steve Andrews spends much of his time on the road. Every year the state chooses 20 percent of Lawrence County properties for a field appraisal, so Steve compares what he sees to office records to determine if changes need to be made. If a house has a new addition or a barn has been torn down, it‘s noted. After five years the whole county has been reviewed and it’s time to start over.
Steve also measures and records new construction county-wide. And unlike most county field appraisers, he returns to the office and makes changes to the appraisal cards himself.
You can view your appraisal card and a GIS map of your property through a link on Barbara’s page on our website, LawrenceCountyTN.gov (look for ‘Assessor of Property’ under the menu item ‘Government’). To see the most up-to-date mapping and aerial views, however, you can use one of the two public work stations in the office. Those records reflect changes immediately; the map on our website is one maintained by the state and may not show the most recent transactions.
Barbara and her staff also help property owners sign up for Greenbelt status, which offers a decreased property assessment on agricultural or forest land of 15 acres or more. They help non-profit entities apply for property tax exemption, and file annual reports with the state on a wide variety of real estate transactions.
In a word, our Property Assessor’s office is busy. There are an incredible 23,512 different properties in Lawrence County, and 1,504 businesses with personal property: a total inventory of 25,911 that fluctuates daily. I’m glad we have a hall-of-fame staff taking care of it for us.