North Idaho Slow Growth

Research and Information


    Kovacs' Gift of Transparency

    This article provides an overview of Bela Kovacs' achievements as Kootenai County Assessor. 
    For a discussion of  the recent BOCC meeting where his recordings of other county employees was discussed,
    see the accompanying article, Kovacs and the KC Kangaroo Court.

    Assessing the Assessor

    The reason NISGR is concerned about the controversy surrounding the Kootenai County Assessor is because we are frequent users of the Assessor’s search tools, including the  KC Geo Information map and the  KC Parcel information database.   And because we have seen substantial improvements in both search tools over the last few years, we are have a high opinion of the work that the current Assessor, Bela Kovacs, has done for the people of Kootenai County.   

    We use the these tools on a weekly basis, and are appreciative of recent improvements.  And we believe these changes provide two important benefits to Kootenai Residents:

    Transparency—the easier it is to look up and compare the assessed values of local properties, the more confidence Kootenai residents can have that properties are assessed fairly, and the better people can understand the whole process. 

    Regularity—it is evident to anyone who has researched Kootenai County assessements, that certain high-end properties have been historically under-assessed.  Correcting long-time under-assessed properties is a challenge, but we believe that recent improvements in the Assessor's Parcel Database tools have helped to address these problems.  

    As frequent users of the Assessors' search tools, we are appreciative of the work that has been done and are sorry that there is so much controversy surrounding his performance.   We will discuss Kovacs' political challenges later, but first we’d like to provide specific examples of why we are pleased with his work.

    Improvements to Kootenai’s GIS MAP

    In order to investigate issues related to growth and development in Kootenai County, NISGR frequently needs to identify the owner, assessed value, taxes, zoning, and sales history of various parcels.  When we began these investigations three years ago, the only parcel data viewable on the KC GIS Map was owner name and AIN number.  

    To obtain additional information, such as address, parcel size, assessment records, and sales history,  you had to go to a completely different website, the KC Parcel information database, and look up the information by AIN number.   And even then, there was often missing information.

    The new system provides far more useful data and is significantly more streamlined.   Now, when you select a parcel on the revised KC GIS Map, the address, owner, parcel size, and assessed value are shown.  And best of all, each parcel is linked directly to the Assessor Parcel Data for the property, so you can view additional information with a single click.

    These screenshots show major improvements in the newer system, but to really appreciate these tools, you should visit the KC GIS site yourself.   It is now so easy to use that anyone can look up all the necessary information on their own property, their neighbors properties, and even their local politicians' properties.    This is what transparency looks like.  

    Link to the New Improved KC GIS Map

    Link to the Old, Unimproved (2022) KC GIS Map  (With Huetter Corridor, for comparison). 

    The older version does NOT link to the parcel data, so you have to use the GIS Map to identify an AIN (serial) number, and then use the AIN  to search the KC Parcel information database.   It was quite cumbersome.  

    As you can see for yourself, the new GIS Map is far easier to use, and a huge improvement.

    KC Assessor Politics

    We are “outsiders” and are not privy to what is really going on in the Assessor's office, or anywhere in the bowels of KC government. But a nice way to summarize the conflict is that Kovacs’ plan for modernizing the data system in the Assessor's office was not appreciated by many long-time employees who preferred to do things the “old way”.

    Maybe things could have been handled better.  Maybe there were communication problems.   But the bottom line is, the Assessor's computer and data management system needed significant upgrades, and some employees were very resistant.   You can read Kovacs' perspective on matters as of two years ago in this press release dated April 13, 2022

    What is most striking about this drama, however, is the lengths to which some of Kovacs' political enemies have been willing to go to, to undermine him, and try to remove him from office.  The knives have been out for Kovacs since he began his work.   Most dramatically, in September of 2022, a month before the election, the Kootenai Board of Commissioners voted to cut Kovacs' salary in half  but without providing any details about what their complaints were.  **

    (**Note: Every news report stated the salary reduction was due to “performance” problems.  None give any indication of what they were.  When Commissioners were asked directly, in person, for specifics, they refused to provide any insights.  NISGR can testify to this.) 

    Against enormous resistance, Kovacs won re-election to the office of Assessor and persisted in his efforts.   And he appears to have succeeded in making many necessary updates, no thanks to the BOCC.  

    “Undocumented Processes”

    Given the extremely negative political environment Kovacs has been working in, it is hardly surprising that he began recording his interactions with co-workers and other Kootenai Officials.  And at the Dec 28th BOCC meeting that was called to discuss these recordings, some of the reasons he gave for his actions were particularly telling:

    “We are discovering processes that have been undocumented.   That is the way it has been since I have been here.” (14:45)

    Later on in the meeting he provided more details. 

    “My initial request was to have the Tax Commission look at all the processes in the Assessor’s office, but not be limited to the Assessor's office alone.  Because as we all know, we have issues here, with the computer systems, and with various processes, and my objective from day one was to get these processes cleaned up and resolved.” (20:20) 

    It is possible that people do not understand the gravity of what Kovacs is saying here.  Processes matter.  When an Assessor is tasked with evaluating property for tax purposes, he must use some regularly ordered manner of determining value.    The process doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be regular and non-arbitrary. 

    If Kovacs is discovering “processes that have been undocumented”, he is discovering instances where assessments, and therefore levels of taxation may be arbitrary and that is a serious problem. 

    In Kovacs' view, irregular processes are a serious problem that must be addressed.  From the point of view of some long-time employees, though, it's just "the way we do things here".  And it is not unusual for key employees, for whom these "processes" are a normal way of doing business, to be most resistant to change.   This is an unbridgeable divide. 

    The problems that have caused irregularities and lack of transparency in the Assessor's office are being addressed, but there are still Kootenai County officials that appear to be attempting to block further investigation.  And these people, in the main, are Kovacs' opponents.

    Who Benefits from Arbitrary Assessments?

    When trying to understand why Kovacs is getting so much resistance to his attempts to clarify "processes" and increase transparency in Kootenai County Assessments and tax collection, it is always helpful to ask, who benefits?  Who benefits from increased access to information, and who benefits from an opaque and hard-to-audit system?

    Why did the previous KC Assessor and his staff tolerate the problems that Kovacs is attempting to fix?   Was it lack of technical know-how, or are there people who benefit from a system that requires "undocumented processes" and "hand-fixes".

    When NISGR began researching property values in Kootenai County, we noticed that high end, luxury properties on lake fronts or in exclusive neighborhoods were often under assessed.  Sometime dramatically.

    For example, as of 2019, the land value of this exclusive two acre lakefront property just outside of CDA with 90 ft. of lake frontage was assessed at just $312K.   That seems unlikely.  For comparison, an 8250 sq single family lot in a Hayden subdivision was assessed at $97K in 2019.   That value doubled by 2022, but has since come down.    The assessed values for residential lots in subdivisions seems to track their actual market value.

    Admittedly, tract homes are easier to access than unique, high-end homes.  There are often few "comparables" for luxury properties and purchase prices may not be disclosed.  But unfairly low assessments of high end properties directly increases the tax burden on the middle class.  

    Returning to the previous example of a high-end home, we see that the assessed value of the luxury lakefront property (land only) has more than tripled since Kovac took over in 2020, and it continued go up in value even during 2023, when the housing market supposedly slowed.  This is because its 2019 value was artificially low.  The assessor has begun to address the problem, because now there is a system in place to systematically correct under-assessments. 

    There were enormous problems in the Assessor’s office when Bela Kovacs took over, including outdated software requiring expensive consultants and “manual adjustments”, "undocumented processes", and unfairly low assessments on high end properties.  Yet we can find no record of the previous assessor ever being called on the carpet, publicly criticized, or attacked in the press.   Quite the opposite.   The lapdog CDA Press refers to him as "much-loved."

    In other words, Serious problems were tolerated as long as the Assessor did not “rock the boat”.

    So our question is, how many influential Kootenai property owners and stakeholders are not pleased with Bela Kovacs?  Before he arrived on the scene, many had enjoyed artificially low property tax rates for decades.     

    Therefore, when you see influential people get hysterical over every single mis-step in the Assessor’s office, or worse, openly sabotage the work he is doing, keep that in mind.  

    Plutocrats and Globalists prefer artificially-low assessments and less transparency.    

    The reason NISGR believes that Kovacs is a champion of the battle for transparency and equitable treatment of taxpayers is because we have seen the improvements he has already made, in an incredibly difficult political environment.

    So from a frequent user of the Assessors’ Search tools, who values transparency and fairness, NISGR says thank you Bela Kovacs, and God Bless.



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