Battiato Gives First State-of-the-OfficeAddress 7/31/15 07/31/15 9:20:36 AM
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Diane Battiato (center, at podium) and her combined staff show a united front to their constituents, as she speaks to the media outside the City-County Building.
Battiato Gives First State-of-the-Office
Address on Newly Merged County Offices
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
It was warm in the sun, but at least it wasn’t the 99-degree, high humidity day that Omahans endured the day before.
For nearly 80 members of the staff of the Douglas County Assessor/Register of Deeds office, it was a chance to take their place in the sun.
The occasion? Diane Battiato’s first “state-of-the-office” news conference after her first seven months leading the newly-created office of Assessor/Register of Deeds.
She reported that her first goal had been to eliminate barriers to peak performance – such as a lack of intra-office communications, a lack of communication with the public, and a lack of staff needed to comply with statutory requirements.
“We, now, have an atmosphere of open internal communication where staff confers regarding office and field operations,” Battiato said. “We discuss ways to improve performance, and develop solutions. Slowly, but surely, we are becoming a team.”
The team meant merging her Register of Deeds staff of 27 with the Assessor’s staff of more than 50. The timing wasn’t ideal. She had a week to learn the preliminary hearing process before it began its intensive seven-month season. One of her goals going forward is to decrease the number of protests needing to be filed.
Battiato learned that the office was understaffed. In her first budget for the new office, she increased the appraisal staff by four, which will reduce the number of properties each appraiser is responsible for from 16,000 to 13,000. That still falls short of industry standards, she said, but it is a step in the right direction.
She also hired a new chief field deputy, Jack Baines, who has already undertaken correcting the assessments of entire neighborhoods for this year, rather than waiting for those values to become effective in 2016.
Battiato also said that the philosophy of the office has changed dramatically. Once viewed as an adversary by some taxpayers, Battiato maintains, “we are stewards of our taxpayers.”
To reinforce this, she said, “each property owner now has a personal appraiser who knows his or her neighborhood, knows his or her home, and is our expert for that property,” she said. “We encourage property owners to call our office anytime to discuss any concerns he or she might have regarding the value of his or her property.”
Battiato said she is convinced that this approach, plus other measures such as using an “overvalued/undervalued” list and preliminary hearings, will go a long way toward building a more positive relationship with taxpayers and reducing the number of protests filed annually.
“I want to send a very clear message: We are going to do everything possible to ensure that communication, information and transparency become, and remain, our way of doing business.”
She applauded her staff for their “hard work and dedication.”
There is one major barrier left to achieving her goals, she said: physically consolidating both offices. Currently, the Register of Deeds office is on the ground floor of the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center, while the Assessor’s office remains on the 4th floor.
Need to Merge SpaceShe has proposed a floor plan that would merge the two offices on the 4th floor. Appealing to first the Douglas County Board, and then the Building Commission, for funding, she was told there was no money in the budget.
She said estimates for the move are around $600,000.
“I understand that money is always tight and there is no better time than another to bite the bullet in order to complete a needed project,” she said. “But the fact remains that three years ago when this idea was originated by the County Board, they admitted they had no plan other than putting this decision into the hands of the voters, and more importantly, they said whoever was elected to run the combined office would determine how that office would operate.
“The downside for the taxpayer is this: If the offices don’t relocate to one floor, continuity will not exist, a disconnect will continue between offices, and effectiveness and efficiency will be nearly impossible to attain.”
Until the offices move to one floor, she said, there can be no savings.
“My hope is that the county board realizes the necessity of completing the merge of these two offices and will do what they should do to bring this to fruition by providing the dollars to do so – thus proving to the taxpayers of Douglas County that the idea they created three years ago was in fact a good one.”
She said they have created a new motto for the office: “Delivering Accuracy in Values and Deeds.”
New LogoBattiato unveiled the office’s new logo, which can be viewed on their revamped joint “landing page” at: http://www.dcassessor.org/. From there, one can visit the Assessor’s site or the Register of Deeds site.