Minot City Assessor Kevin Ternes to retire Feb. 28
City assessor prepares to move on, not slow down
City Assessor Kevin Ternes will be moving on but not slowing down when he retires Feb. 28 after nearly 29 years with the City of Minot.
Ternes plans to open a commercial appraisal business and pursue his array of other interests. He leaves behind a five-member staff, whom he holds in high regard, and a city vehicle he calls well-seasoned with the smell of his often spilled coffee.
He started in the assessor’s office in 1991 as an appraiser and became city assessor in 2004.
“It was quite a job but very interesting. I learned a lot,” Ternes said.
In the past 20 years, he calculates he attended about 800 city council meetings. He’s worked with four city managers and six mayors. He’s also worked with representatives of other local governments. Assessment data produced by his office is used across the various property-taxing entities. He’s worked with the more than 100 other assessors in the state to keep legislators informed and stay updated themselves through continuing education.
It’s the relationships that Ternes said he will miss most in retirement. He’ll miss working with current city staff, just as he has missed the many long-time city department heads with whom he had worked before they retired.
Although he’s enjoyed the job, he doesn’t point to himself as the most popular person in city government. If asked about the toughest part of his job, Ternes would answer it’s getting blamed for the tax bill.
“There’s a lot of things on that tax bill. But we’re only responsible for that one,” he said, pointing to the property valuation figure on a tax bill.
“We get a little heat for the taxes,” Ternes said with the smile of someone who can relate to comic Rodney Dangerfield’s catchphrase, “I don’t get no respect.”
“We’re kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of government service. Nobody wants to hang around us too much,” he joked. “One of the hardest things about the job is to continually explain to people – we’re just appraisers. Now, we can talk about ‘is my house really worth $200,000 or not,’ but it’s the tax rate that’s applied to that $200,000 that we have to somehow take a look at.”
Contrary to Dangerfield’s self-depreciating humor, Ternes holds the respect of those who have worked with him.
“Kevin Ternes is very well respected, not only in Minot, but in circles around the state that understand property valuation and assessment,” Minot City Council President Mark Jantzer said. “He knows his stuff and states his position professionally. From my early time on the council in 2008, whether it was in estimating an increase in value on a home being moved, or at the annual Board of Equalization, I always felt confidence in the information and recommendation Kevin gave us. Recently, when we have had challenges of assessed value for past years, Kevin has always had a clear explanation of why the numbers were correct. His experience will definitely be missed.”
Ternes said the challenges in his job have been the greatest during the city’s recent oil boom and post-flood years. With house values rising 15% in a year, and new hotels and apartments going up at a rapid rate, it was a busy time in the tax assessment office. Since then commercial values have fallen, while residential values have remained fairly strong, Ternes said.
The flood of 2011 affected a fourth of properties, he said. The heaviest workload for his office wasn’t determining the loss of value on flooded properties but reviewing and updating records on an estimated 2,500 properties that gradually were renovated, he said. Today, fewer than 15 properties remain in disrepair.
“We were involved in a lot of flood buyouts, helping to provide guidance,” Ternes said. The office doesn’t weigh in on opinions of private appraisers but it can provide additional input on neighborhoods and markets as well as ensure calculations are correct.
With the growth in workload, Ternes is pleased to have increased personnel in the assessor’s office by only one employee. He estimates each appraiser reviews 700 to 800 properties every year, which includes any new or remodeled buildings and the routine inspections conducted on properties about every six years.
The office also handles more than 1,000 property-tax exemptions and credits, including those for disabled veterans, seniors and charitable operations.
Ternes credits technology for making it possible to accomplish the volume of work with a small staff. Technology transformed the office during his tenure, he said. Everyday devices such as cell phones and digital cameras have altered and improved the way staff do their jobs. Computers have replaced filing cabinets.
The process of looking up parcel information from paper files for a resident used to take 5 to 7 minutes. By 1992, computers had cut the time to about 50 seconds, Ternes recalled. Now it happens in only several seconds, and residents can find the information themselves online.
“With computers, we are able to calculate and get much more statistical analysis,” Ternes said. “It’s true that the inspection part hasn’t changed. We go out and we still measure a new house. That hasn’t changed. But we don’t use metal measuring tape anymore. We use a laser measuring device that’s just quicker.”
Ternes is confident he’s leaving the office in good shape, with a capable staff to carry on until a successor is hired.
“We were always pretty good at updating how we did things. I always felt like we were up to speed on all the new assessment techniques,” he said.
Before becoming an assessor, Ternes worked for a local music store for 10 years. He went back to Minot State University to finish his degree before his employment with the city.
Ternes said one of the proudest moments in his career was attaining the highest credential from the International Association of Assessing Officers in about 2001. Earning the credential was a five-year process.
Ternes also holds a private commercial appraiser’s license, which will enable him to open his downtown business, Minot Commercial Appraisal, in March.
“I’m really looking forward to just kind of being on my own,” he said, “but we have four grandkids that live right here in town so I don’t plan on working full time. But we’ll see.”
He and his wife, Marilyn, who is retiring from the Dakota Boys & Girls Ranch, will have their outdoor activities to enjoy, too. Ternes might be found on his bicycle or motorcycle, hunting or fishing with the grandchildren or playing in a band somewhere.
“I joke about having 20 different musical instruments at home and I have, I think, 13 guitars. I’m a musician at heart,” he said. “I also have a piano tuning business.”
Inducted into the Dakota Musicians’ Association Hall of Fame in 2017, Ternes hit his first drum at age 4 and moved on to the guitar at 13. He played with The Redbirds, The Bill Merck Polka Band and now plays with two musician friends in Tin Star.
Another of his part-time jobs is working with the National Association of Assessors to review 150-page appraisal reports submitted by assessors in their quest for certifications. He is one of six assessors nationally who conduct reviews for the association.
“So between pianos and Tin Star and grading appraisals for the association, and being part-time appraiser now, I’m not so sure I’m going to have a whole lot of free time,” Ternes said.
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