Steven Miles has worked in the Douglas County Appraiser’s Office for 28 years and was appointed County Appraiser 10 years ago in 2009.
By Kansas statute, the Appraiser’s Office is responsible for determining the value of all taxable property in Douglas County, which includes real estate and personal property like boats, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, jet skis and planes. As of October 28, the county had 40,943 parcels, including 31,144 residential homes, 1,519 commercial properties, 1,710 farms with a home and 2,956 plots of agricultural land.
Miles said they look at three approaches to determine a value: cost, income and sales. “Our job is to determine the most reasonable value for the taxable property throughout the county based on the information that we have at our disposal at the time,” he said.
The Appraiser’s Office has 13 full-time employees and one part-time employee and an annual budget of about $781,000. “I’ve been able to acquire great staff who handle many of the details while I handle the bigger picture items and administrative responsibilities,” he said. “We’re a great team and I’m fortunate because many of the employees have worked here a long time.”
Senior Personal Property Appraiser Karla Grosdidier has worked with Miles in the Appraiser’s Office for nearly 19 years. “It is very motivating to know that Steve, as our department head, trusts our judgement and abilities to do a good job. He doesn’t micro-manage or try to second guess the decisions each of us make through the tax year,” she said.
Miles said they wear different hats throughout the year as their work shifts. Here’s how he described the work:
- January - Final review of properties. Employees are looking at the information that the computer program has generated and determining whether it has given a reasonable value of the property. By March 1, 2020, they mail the change of value notices to all Douglas County property owners. Property owners will have 30 days until March 30 to appeal the 2020 valuation.
- Spring – Hearing officer phase. Appraisers meet with property owners who disagree with the values and request an informal meeting. They also gather information from taxpayers that maybe they missed or hadn’t taken into account about the property that affects the value. The Appraiser’s Office had 791 informal meetings in 2019 and 651 in in 2018. Last year, about 46 percent of the appeals received an adjustment in value.
- Summer – Data collection phase. The appraisers collect data by visiting properties and looking at information such as aerial photos and building permits. They then make changes based on the data that is collected. Some staff members begin working on the analysis where they look at sales information and information about the properties and they do analysis, testing and modeling that help them develop the values.
- November to January – Valuation phase begins.
Miles said he started in the Appraiser’s Office as field staff appraiser and “did a little bit of everything.” He collected data, did GIS mapping, and worked mostly in commercial and agriculture because of his background.
Miles grew up on a farm near Burlingame, which is 30 miles south of Topeka, and graduated from high school there. Miles and his three brothers began working on the farm at an early age, helping plant and harvest crops, feed livestock, and stack hay on wagons and then unload it. “My dad taught us a good work ethic and the importance of getting a job done,” he said.
He began working with horses at age 10 and bought his first horse while in high school. He trained the horse to ride and work cattle. After high school, he studied Animal Sciences and Industry at Kansas State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural production.
He farmed and trained horses after college and then moved to Lawrence in 1981 to continue that career. However, due to the expensive price of land and equipment, he decided he needed a better source of steady income. So in the late 1980s, he got a real estate license and sold real estate until he was hired to work in the Douglas County Appraiser’s Office in 1991.
When Miles was hired, there was no formal training for an appraiser. “It was sometimes called the accidental profession,” he joked. Now, the Kansas City, Mo.-based International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO), offers courses on appraisal in theory and technique. There also are a few universities around the country that offer appraisal courses, but none in Kansas. “It’s still mostly on-the-job training,” he said.
Miles has served as president of the Kansas County Appraiser’s Association, president of the regional chapter of IAAO, and director to the North Central Regional Association of Assessing Officers.
When he’s not wearing his County Appraiser hat, you will find him doing what he loves: farming and working with horses. He has helped with his wife’s family’s farm since 1981 and during the last five years, has become the primary operator. He has nine quarter horses that he adores. “That’s always my stress relief from this job – is to go home and play with my animals,” he said.
Miles has shown his horses in world championship contests and won once. He also serves as judge for horse shows, both large and small. He has judged in New Mexico, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Michigan. Two highlights, he said, were judging the American Buckskin Registry Association World Show in 2007 and the Buckskin Horse Congress in 2012.
A lifetime 4-Her, Miles has given back to the organization by serving as a project leader and coach to many young 4-Hers. He also has served on the Douglas County Fair Board. Additionally, he has served on boards for horse-related organizations and currently assists with the annual Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade in downtown Lawrence. Miles and his wife, Crystal, help coordinate volunteers and are announcers for the parade at 10th and Massachusetts Street.
Miles has been a horse trainer for more than 30 years, and he believes it has helped him in working with people. “I have to be able to read the horses and figure out what they’re thinking, and it’s the same with people. It’s reading people and then trying to help diffuse the situation. If I hear someone raise their voice, I can usually help calm them down,” he said.
The training also comes in handy when doing appraisal work on properties because he can read most animals and he knows to never turn his back on one. He carries a clipboard and uses that for protection if needed. One time, he recalled, a dog lounging at him while the owner was holding it on a leash. He looked down and saw red. “At first glance, I thought he had got me. On second glance, I realized it was red ink from the pen that was in my pocket,” he said, with laughter.
Another time, he couldn’t find his measuring ruler. The culprit: a dog.
Commercial Real Estate Appraiser Brad Eldridge described Miles as “kind and level-headed,” adding those traits are important when problem-solving and engaging the public. Eldridge said Miles also supports professional development and education of his staff, which is evident through the Department’s consistent success in achieving high compliance ratings from their regulatory agency at the state.
The County Appraiser publishes a newsletter that can be viewed on the Douglas County website: http://dgcoks.org/newsletters.
* Story by Communications Specialist Karrey Britt