State Offers To Assess The Assessor County May Split Cost Of A Review With Department Of Revenue

The state Department of Revenue is offering to help pay an expert to pinpoint what’s wrong in Spokane County Assessor Charlene Cooney’s office.

That’s the second time in five days that an outside agency has offered management oversight to the troubled assessor’s office.

Cooney is coming under increasing criticism for inaccurate appraisals that forced her to slash more than $96 million from the county’s assessed valuation.

As a result, county taxing districts stand to lose nearly $1.4 million, which could force cutbacks in programs, services and employees.

Will Rice, of the state Revenue Department, said Tuesday he sent a letter to County Commissioner Skip Chilberg that discussed bringing in a team of experts who would evaluate management policies and procedures.

Rice said his office has done similar reviews in King and Pacific counties that cost between $50,000 and $75,000. He added that he’s seen problems like these before, but “what’s unique is the magnitude” of difficulties in Spokane.

Cooney said Tuesday she welcomed the department’s help. She added that she talked to Rice two weeks ago about such an evaluation but money was an issue.

“Oh, yes. I want that absolutely,” Cooney said. “That would be great.”

County commissioners last week offered to pay for a deputy director who would help Cooney get the office under control. The proposed salary - about $42,000 - would come from county reserves.

Cooney said she hasn’t accepted or refused the commissioners’ offer because she wants the Revenue Department’s evaluation done first.

“I think we should go through the review process first before we put on another layer of government,” Cooney said.

Chilberg, who got Rice’s letter Tuesday, said the county and the state would probably split the evaluation’s cost.

“We’re willing to offer this as a positive step to bring some resolution to this issue,” Chilberg said.

Owners of more than 300 properties still are challenging Cooney’s appraisals, meaning tax losses could increase.

Officials, employees and property owners say Cooney’s lack of leadership and poor management skills largely are to blame for the problems.

Commissioner Steve Hasson said he’s frustrated that he hasn’t heard a word from Cooney about the offer to hire a “second-in-command.”

“We haven’t heard anything at all from Charlene,” Hasson said.

“It takes two to tango.”

Hasson did hear from her husband, Joe Cooney, a longtime Democratic activist, who wanted a “better understanding” of commissioners’ concerns about his wife’s office.

Hasson said Joe Cooney wanted to know if commissioners “were doing something for political purpose or above board for the welfare of the community.”

Charlene Cooney said her husband was out of town Tuesday, and she was unaware that he called Hasson.

As for a timeline, Cooney said she planned to talk to the commissioners and Rice as soon as possible.

“I don’t believe in waiting a long period of time,” she said.

“It just depends on everyone’s schedule.”

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