Battiato: Valuation Protests Decrease Shows Office Improvements 10/16/18 4:40:01 PM
Battiato: Valuation Protests Decrease Shows Office Improvements
By Scott Stewart
The Daily Record
As a remodeling of the Douglas County Assessor/Register of Deeds’ Office continues, Diane Battiato believes the metaphorical dust has settled after the two offices combined more than three years ago.
Valuation protests are down this year, and Battiato said the office received an “awesome scorecard” from the state for its efforts to improve valuation calculations.
“The state was extremely satisfied,” Battiato said. “We’re really on the road to much more fair, equitable and efficient not only valuations, but processes to get to those valuations.”
A Tale of Two Offices
The two candidates for the Douglas County Assessors/Register of Deeds’ office have different visions of how the office is functioning. The Daily Record spoke with each candidate about their perspectives and plans for the future. They will square off in the Nov. 6 general election.
Today: Incumbent Diane Battiato believes the office has turned the corner by redrawing valuation comparison districts.
Tomorrow: Challenger Walt Peffer believes the office is in “turmoil” and wants to modernize valuation process.
Find more about the candidates on their websites: www.dianebattiato. com and www.waltpeffer.com
Battiato, a Democrat, was first elected register of deeds in 2004 and won election to the combined office
in 2014. She also has worked for more than 30 years as a real estate broker. She is being challenged by commercial real estate professional Walt Peffer, a Republican.
The past couple years provided challenges to the Assessor/Register of Deeds’ Office, which were combined in 2015. Property valuations, based on former administrations’ work, were deemed too low by state officials in 2016, which prompted a large number of mandated increases. That, in turn, spurred valuation protests – a situation that Battiato said has largely been resolved by subsequent reforms.
“Combining two most essential county offices was a huge endeavor,” Battiato said. “During that transitional period, we identified some major issues with valuations from the past, we created a solution and then, going forward, we implemented
Valuations hadn’t been adjusted for many years in accordance with market trends, Battiato said. On top has been accelerating since 2012, which exacerbated the problem.
A major part of the solution has been to increase the number of residential market sales areas from six to 17, she said. The areas group properties into similar builds in terms of age and quality. The new market areas roughly correspond to high school attendance areas, with some adjustments based on sale data.
“It worked really well,” Battiato said. “We look at sales in market areas on a daily basis.”
Expanding the number of market areas has allowed the office to more easily match similar sales within neighborhoods instead of comparing sales across the metropolitan area. That has allows changes in valuation to be targeted to those areas where there’s been a lot of changes driven by sales.
Should the state order increases in the future, those changes could be limited to a smaller market area – potentially avoiding a large number of mandated increases like those seen in 2016, where two of the old, larger market areas were targeted by the Tax Equalization and Review Commission.
Technology is another area of focus, especially for register of deeds’ functions. Battiato said the document records back to 1854 are digitized, and daily recordings are now available online in real time – bringing that side of the office from an “archaic mainframe” to the modern era.
“We’re working to doing the same thing now with the assessor’s side,” Battiato said.
Battiato is the first woman to lead the Register of Deeds Office and combined Assessor/Register of Deeds Office. She’s a real estate broker who owns Battiato Real Estate. She previously served on the Papillion City Council, including two years as president, from 1997 to 2002.
She has been recognized as a member of Omaha South High School’s Hall of Fame and received the Eleanor Roosevelt Mentoring Award from the Douglas County Democratic Party. She’s also served two terms on the board of directors for the Omaha Municipal Land Bank.
Despite Battiato’s tally of accomplishments, the office still faces criticism – as even appropriate changes to valuation can cause frustration for taxpayers. Any increase can mean higher taxes even when tax rates remain steady. Battiato said her office isn’t responsible for setting tax rates.
“It concerns us that we’re depicted as the big, bad wolf at the door when actually we’re just part of the process that gets those numbers to people,” Battiato said.
She pointed to a decline in protests as a sign that the situation has improved. In 2016, about 4.5 percent of valuation changes were challenged. That dropped to nearly 4.4 percent in 2017 and fell to nearly 3.3 percent in 2018.
“It’s working,” Battiato said. “Everything we do for success is a process.”