The Spokane County Assessor’s Office places well on state tests measuring its performance despite dwindling budgets and staffing levels.
Incumbent Assessor Vicki Horton, who took over the office by defeating her boss, then-Assessor Ralph Baker, in the 2010 election, credits the work of her employees for that continued level of service.
“We’ve got really good numbers,” Horton said. “We pride ourselves on that.”
Her opponent, private real estate appraiser Roger Trainor, says Horton has not done enough to fulfill the promises made in her previous campaign to expand technology and eradicate discrepancies in mass appraisals.
“I didn’t think I’d get so passionate about this,” the 56-year-old Newman Lake resident said of his bid for office.
The state Department of Revenue issues an annual report ranking assessor offices on their performance in mass appraisal, a method of assessing real estate values using the sale of a sample group of properties in an area and using those numbers to assess all surrounding property. Spokane scores close to the top of the 2013 report.
Horton said she is the candidate most qualified to oversee mass appraisals. Trainor is a certified fee appraiser, which involves the inspection of a single property.
“He does one tree, we do a forest,” Horton said.
But Trainor points to several examples in that forest where the heights of trees don’t make sense, in his estimation. Homes that are next to each other in certain neighborhoods with similar amenities vary in value by tens of thousands of dollars, he said, pointing to assessed values he pulled from county records.
Trainor said he supports increased education to let the elderly and disabled property owners know they can apply for a property tax exemption, including by sending fliers with Meals on Wheels.
“We tell them, ‘Just go to the Internet,’ ” Trainor said. “Well, if you’re 80 years old, just going to the Internet isn’t an option.”
The budget for the assessor’s office has dipped from $3.8 million in 2009 to about $3.4 million last year, and the staff has shrunk from 55 employees to 44 over the same period. Horton said she’s open to technological advances, including field computers, to cut the amount of time employees spend on properties. But the advances would require an investment that may be a tough sell, she said.
Trainor said Horton ran on the promise of increased technology in 2010 and hasn’t delivered. He said he’d try to shift money within the existing budget to buy tablets for appraisers.
Horton topped Trainor with 73 percent of the vote in August’s primary. Both are Republicans.
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