BOWLING GREEN—There’s a lot that goes into the office of assessor for Pike County, and Donna Prior said she’s learned all the ins and outs of the job during her five terms in office—and the 17 years before that—working in the county’s assessor’s office.
“I’ve actually been there 35 years, this year,” she said. Because the job of county assessor is an elected position, she added, it is like having a major performance review every four years, where the people get to decide if you’re doing a good job or not.
She’s been working out in the field for weeks, looking at new construction and older buildings to see if they need to be depreciated “or what they need to be.”
Most of the time she’s working on paperwork to figure out the value of personal property tax for vehicles for Pike County citizens and businesses.
She’s also worked in mapping, where she reads the property deeds and plats the various properties.
“This job is not as easy as everyone thinks it is,” Prior added. She sometimes has to do in-depth research on the property deeds. “There are just so many things that go into being an assessor.”
When she was hired 35 years ago, Prior said she input data into what was then the county’s computer system. “It was more like a glorified typewriter,” she added. From there, she started doing some of the mapping then some of the personal property and some of the field work when she worked for John Shade.
She just started going from one job to another, “where ever they needed me to go,” she said, “and I learned every aspect of the job.”
In addition to the on-the-job training, Prior said she’s had many hours of state training. “We have to go to school every two years for 50 hours and every year for 30 hours,” she explained. A lot of the training, she’s been grandfathered out of because of all the time she’s been in office.
“But I do still learn something new every day,” she added. She is also constantly making changes to the computer systems to help streamline the operation, she said.
“I want to make it user-friendly for everyone,” Prior said. “We’ve go it down to an art now with the new system.”
As the assessor, she said, you learn how to deal with testifying in court on property lines. But assessor maps do not stand up in a court of law, she explained, because they are for assessing property value only.
She also noted that mass appraisals are mandated by state statute.
“Doing individual appraisals, will not work,” Prior added, “because of the way the statutes read.”
Mass appraisals now are done by inputting the sales numbers the assessor’s office receives from a particular area and taking the average of those sales to figure the taxes. A buyer transfer notice is sent out on each sale. Prior noted that the state does not make it mandatory people send their sales information to the assessor’s office.
“You have to use what you get,” she said.
But she added that she’s not in favor of making that mandatory because that could result in people having to pay higher taxes. “And I wouldn’t want that for the people of Pike County.”
There have been times, she noted, when older people on a fixed income have made improvements to their property and learned that their taxes were going up because of those improvements.
“I’ve had to deal with tears from them,” she said. “It breaks my heart. But, I have a job to do and I have to stand firm on what I come up with on the valuation.” There is some relief for people who are facing this scenario.
“We do have a tax break, circuit breaker,” she explained, where people in a certain income bracket can apply for relief and get back anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent of their money. But they have to pay their taxes first, Prior added.
And other public aspects of the job are not easy either, she said. Prior has had people scream and yell at her and call her names, but she does not let that get to her.
“You have to have tough skin in this business,” she said. If someone is extremely upset when visiting her office, Prior said has asked the person to leave and come back when he or she has calmed down.
“I don’t like doing that,” she said. But it’s sometimes necessary.
And when she’s out in the field, she sometimes encounters property owners who don’t want her there. A statute allows assessors onto private property.
Even so, she says she loves her job and meeting with the taxpayers.
She explained that the state comes in and audit 90 of her assessments each year, including her personal property to make sure she’s doing her job.
“I think that’s fair,” Prior said.
Prior is running on the Democratic ticket against Foster, the Republican candidate.
“I know if I lose this election it is not because I didn’t do a good job,” she said. “I have followed the statutes and worked 8 hours every day, unless I take a vacation day or something,” she added. “I know I have given 110 percent to this job.”