With the upcoming retirement of Spokane County Assessor Vicki Horton, there are two newcomers looking to replace her.
Former state Rep. Leonard Christian and Tom Konis, a current employee of Horton’s, are both Republicans and both tout their experience to take on the job.
The assessor’s office is responsible for assessing property values, calculating levy rates and processing exemptions.
Family? How long living in the area? I was raised in Spokane and graduated from Ferris High School in 1984. I married Rima, my high school sweetheart nine days after graduation and entered the U.S. Air Force two weeks later. After serving over 20 years, I retired and moved back to Spokane where I started a second career as a Realtor. We have two children, Robin and Mark and two grandchildren.
Why did you want to file for candidacy? Much of my life has been focused on public service and I love a challenge. Commissioner Al French asked me if I would be willing to serve my community as a member of the Board of Equalization, knowing my experience as a Spokane Realtor and state legislator would be valuable to the citizens of Spokane County. While listening to testimony about the outdated processes still used in the Assessor's office, I knew I could make a difference and realized my skill set and business degree would be a perfect fit helping the taxpayers. What are your goals for the assessor's office over the next four years? My number one goal is to provide the leadership needed to get the job done on time! State law sets dates to get tasks accomplished each year. The office consistently misses those dates and that creates backlogs in other county departments and places burdens on the taxpayers, schools, fire and police districts. The assessor's office services over 50 different taxing districts and they expect the job to be done efficiently and on time. There is technology available today that will greatly reduce the time it takes to assess a home and will improve accuracy, saving the office and taxpayer's money.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing Spokane County in the immediate future? For the office of county assessor it's clearly population growth and new construction. State law gives assessors until August 31st to add new construction to the tax rolls, or the new owner avoids paying property taxes and current owners pay more to cover that loss. I will make it a priority to get the job accomplished so schools, police and fire departments have the funds needed to provide services to these new neighborhoods.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? The number one question is, "I thought there was a 1% cap, why did my property taxes go up so much this year?" The simple answer is the state legislature set aside the 1-percent cap so they could impose a onetime fix for the McCleary decision to fully fund education. It's extremely important that your property's information is correct in the system so you are not paying more than your fair share. What differences separate you from your opponent? The assessor is an executive level position that manages a $3.4 million dollar annual budget, a staff of 43 and is responsible for 41 percent of the counties total income. I am the only candidate with a college degree, served in the military, has actually managed an office, and as a state representative worked on multi-billion dollar budgets. People matter and I will do everything possible to keep your taxes low.
Family? How long living in the area? Since 1972 when my father retired from the Air Force. I graduated from Cheney High School. I have been married for 40 years. My wife and I have four daughters and nine grandchildren.
Why did you want to file for candidacy? The current Assessor Vicki Horton has decided to retire and asked me to run to take her place and keep the continuity of the office. I have worked in the Assessor’s office for 25 years as both a residential and commercial appraiser. I know about all the different aspects of the office including the over 300 laws and statutes including the State Constitution that govern what the Assessor’s office can and cannot do. I have hundreds of clock hour of classes concerning mass appraisal and real estate. The assessor’s position is not just a managerial position it is also a technical position. You must have a complete knowledge of standard appraisal practices as well as mass appraisal techniques. With my experience I can insure that the appraisers are performing at their best for the citizens of Spokane County. Having worked in the office I can be as effective Assessor from the very first day on the job. I have previous management experience and the complete endorsement of the current staff. I don’t need to learn the job I know the job.
What are your goals for the assessor's office over the next four years? In the next four years we need to embrace technology and use it to better serve the public. We have been trying for years to have a devise that would allow our appraisers to do most of their work from the neighborhoods they are working in. The software purchased by the county was not capable of having a remote tablet devise used in the neighborhoods, we were required to take digital pictures when inspecting properties and taking notes that are finally entered into the computers when we are back in the office. This has limited the time our appraiser was looking at properties and kept us from spending enough time insuring that the information we have on each parcel is 100-percent correct. Our software vendor has finally created a way to integrate with a tablet to give us the opportunity to have the appraisers complete most of their work in the field including adding pictures and insuring that the descriptions of each parcel is correct. We also need to work with the different building departments to get electronic site plans sent to our office for all new construction, so we are not required to measure every new house built. Presently this is not required of the builders in every case. Lastly due to budget cuts a few years our customer service has suffered. I plan on working with the County Commissioners for increase the staffing for the office to let us serve the public to the best of our ability.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing Spokane County in the immediate future? In the assessor’s office our biggest concern is the rapid growth of the county. With the addition of the workforce needed to supply the new Amazon building as well as the sudden awakening of the rest of the nation finally figuring out that this is a great place to live, housing is a huge concern. With the growth management act limiting our growth within the county and the increasing values of our existing housing market I personally am concerned as to how our young people can become homeowners. Our office is experiencing a ton of pressure with the amount of new construction and the new lots being created through segregation of larger parcels into building lots.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? The biggest thing I hear in meeting people is how few know what the heck the assessor is. Working in the office for 25 years I thought that everyone knew what we do. Few people know that we establish the assessed values that their property taxes are based on. In addition to the assessed values we are the office that segregates properties into buildable size lots for developers if desired, and we also manage all the property tax exemption programs. If you are over the age of 61 or are disabled, you may qualify for some relief on your property taxes. The exemption is only for your primary residence and you cannot make more than $40,000. In addition, there are programs available for timber, farm and ag properties and open space. Our office also calculates the levy rate for property taxes. We are not in charge of any budgets, so the Assessor has no control of what taxes do we just calculate the amount. An honest Assessor cannot promise to keep your taxes low as we have no say in budgets.
What differences separate you from your opponent? I have worked in the assessor’s office for 25 years my opponent is a Realtor and has never worked doing any of the functions that the Assessor’s office performs. I have not been involved in politics and until the current Assessor, Vicki Horton talked with me I had no desire to seek a political office. My opponent has been very active in the Republican Party presently serving on both the Republicans of Spokane County board as chair and is on the GOP board as a district leader. This year he was chosen as one of the volunteers of the year by the Republican party. I have never run for a political office, but my opponent has lots of practice. This is the third different office he has tried for since 2010. He ran for Auditor in 2010 and was appointed to the Legislature in 2014 and served 9 months before losing in the primary, he is now running for this office. There is no room for politics in the Assessor’s office everyone must be treated the same. I have no desire other than to use the experience and knowledge that I have of the office to best serve the citizens of Spokane County. I only want to be your Assessor.