The city speaks: Reflecting on 38 years of working for the city of Marshfield
By Joan Spencer
Taking a moment to look back in time, I still remember walking through those impressively heavy and ornate doors of the former City Hall building — now Tower Hall — Aug. 29, 1977, for the first time as a city employee. Of course I was replacing someone who was irreplaceable by everyone’s standards, and I was not even sure what skills I would need for whatever the job was. There were no job descriptions in those days.
That first work day, my fatherly type boss asked me if I knew what an assessor did, and when I said, “Assess,” he promptly took several manuals off the shelf and put them on my desk.
“You’ll know your job after you read these,” he said.
For the next two weeks, I read thousands of pages of instructions contained within those manuals and was introduced to assessing. Of course, I asked intelligent questions in between because I wanted to make sure I would never have to read it all at the same time ever again.
I learned quickly that government employment had budgetary limitations. My work station was an old wooden desk and a secretary’s chair with the back hanging on by a thread. I started on an old, black typewriter with round metal keys that even when pounded would sometimes stick and have to be pulled back manually. All copies were done with thin black or blue carbon paper that would crinkle in the typewriter and leave dark lines on the copy pages.
Most of the information in the files had been manually written, and handwriting had to be deciphered. Records themselves were scattered in several different unlabeled file drawers, i.e., deeds, real estate transfers, and four sets of property record cards. Additionally, some of the information was stored on shelving in the basement. It took a track star to find anything within the scope of one phone call.
The only plat maps at that time had been drawn as part of a Works Progress Administration make work project and were contained within hard and very heavy binder covers that needed a key to tighten and loosen pages. There was no city map with all of the property lines drawn.
On a brighter note, I was given one of the best old staplers ever made to use at my desk along with my own roll of scotch tape. I had a state of the art calculator that carried out numbers to nine digits.
After working long hours and on weekends, I took advantage of coursework and educational opportunities. I was able to pass state certification exams at different levels, including the Assessor 2, improving my value to the department. I started work as the elected city assessor June 1, 1986.
That second first day I developed a plan to complete a citywide revaluation as mandated by the state for our 1987 roll. Computers were purchased, and free assessment software from the state was used. We began a fieldwork schedule along with taking photographs of buildings followed by data entry and a value reconciliation process. Marshfield was the first municipality that uploaded values to Wood County for that 1987 roll even though it took place at 3 a.m.
Department operations have evolved through technological advances over the years. Today everything is electronic, including maps, and computer skills are mandatory to perform job duties. Each property has its own file jacket containing all of the information on record, and those files are in the process of being scanned for the future.
We have digital photographs and footprint sketches of buildings. We use aerial and topographical maps and have developed one of the best web links in the state for public access to the information we collect. Internal policies have been established to ensure the protection of our citizens and our employees.
I have survived 12 elections, and the final day of my current term of office is May 31, 2016. At or before that time, the common council will determine whether to continue staffing an Assessor’s Office, contract the work, or combine local staff with a contract firm.
Whatever happens, I have enjoyed working for the city of Marshfield for the past 38 years. I am thankful to my former boss, Harry Blackwood, who retired and encouraged me to run for that 1985 election. I still have the list and will always cherish the people that supported and encouraged me along with the 2,500 people that signed my papers to run for that first election.
Since we are in transition, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank past elected assessors who worked and served the city and people of Marshfield.