Retiring on a high note
WORTHINGTON -- In a few weeks, Byron Swart will be soaking up the sunshine outside Orlando, Fla., and perhaps thinking about Florida's skyrocketing land values as he and wife Cindy consider investing in a winter getaway.
The Nobles County assessor will spend his last day at his office inside the Government Center in downtown Worthington on Friday, with a retirement reception planned from 2 to 4 p.m. The date marks two weeks shy of a 30-year-career for Swart.
When the Slayton native moved into the assessor's department back in 1982, land values were at a high note in Nobles County, but then came the farm crisis a few years later, and his office couldn't lower land values fast enough.
The opposite is true today, with land selling at all-time highs and valuations still factored using sales figures from a year ago.
"We're always at a year's lag," said Swart of the methodology used to factor land values -- numbers that ultimately impact just how much a person has to pay in property taxes.
Swart just laughs when he thinks about coming into his job on a high note and ending on a high note, knowing that his office has seen a share of challenges over the years. Then again, there's always chocolate to get through those days.
As the department head, Swart has made sure to keep his office's candy dispenser filled with M&M's -- mostly the peanut variety -- and his staff, family and personal shopping sprees have ensured an array of back-up M&M dispensers should the main one give out.
Earlier this week, most of the M&M dispensers, figurines and collectibles had already been missing from the office -- packed up and hauled home. Swart said one of his projects in retirement will be to build some shelves so he can display the collection there.
Once the shelves are done and the Florida trip complete, Swart said he doesn't have any concrete plans in retirement, well, other than trying to improve his golf game, of course.
Swart's wife retired about a year ago, and while he reached the rule of 90 (years of service plus age) five years ago, he wasn't quite ready to step away from the job. Now, although there isn't a full-time assessor hired to take his place, he knows he's leaving the office in good hands.
Swart's career in assessing began with a year of accounting classes at the vocational school in Jackson, followed by a couple of years in program training in Hibbing.
After a brief stint up north, he returned to his hometown of Slayton and was hired in the Murray County auditor's office. A short time later he became deputy assessor, remaining there for six years before moving into the assessor's role in Nobles County.
The people -- and the numbers -- were what kept Swart in the office for so many years.
"I just enjoyed the challenge with what's going on in the market," he added.
Just as the market has changed from year to year, so has the county assessor's office. Swart said when he first came on board in 1982 there was an assessor, a deputy assessor, an appraiser and two secretaries. Back then, everything had to be figured and logged by hand -- there were no computers to help speed up the work flow.
These days, a staff of three makes up the assessor's office: Swart, deputy assessor Dave Voehl and one secretary, Val Ruesch -- and they wouldn't be able to do their jobs as easily without the wonders of technology.
Swart said CAMA, the computer-aided mass appraisal system, has transformed the work they do.
Every single parcel in the city of Worthington is entered into the system, and the process of entering values for each of those parcels -- a job that used to take two secretaries more than three months to complete -- can now be finished in a matter of about 15 minutes.
"The loss of staff has caused us to utilize the changes in technology much more," Swart said.
The search to fill the county assessor's office has already begun but, as of yet, a new assessor has not been hired.
Swart said it may be a challenge because of the required accreditation necessary to be a county assessor. At this time, he said four counties in Minnesota are searching for someone to fill the assessor's role, and many of those who do meet the criteria live in the metropolitan area.
Swart has offered his services on a part-time basis if the position remains open longer than anticipated.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer
can be reached at 376-7330.