Four years ago, Vicki Horton emerged from a field of six candidates to unseat incumbent Spokane County Assessor Ralph Baker, who was then her boss.
Confidence in Baker’s administration of the office had been undermined by internal complaints about his management style and often obtuse relations with the public. There also were claims of favoritism in the valuations, or total lack thereof. Nevertheless, we endorsed Baker on the strength of his office’s performance versus those in other Washington counties, and the implementation of technology that even his foes did not fault.
Spokane continues to rate well, and complaints have subsided. With those two important measures in mind, we endorse Horton over another Republican who is challenging for the office, Roger Trainor.
The assessor’s responsibilities are straightforward: Apply accurate valuations to the more than 200,000 land parcels in the county. Those assessments become the foundation for state and local property taxes. The office also deals with personal property valuations.
Except for reports early in her administration that new construction was getting on the county tax rolls too slowly – a fault-finding so persistent Baker said he had inherited the problem – tranquility has befallen the assessor’s office, and that’s a good thing.
But Trainor says the office can do better. A certified fee appraiser, Trainor says he sees discrepancies in valuations among nearby properties. The county appraisers he encounters in the field, he adds, are taking notes on paper instead of laptop computers despite a Horton commitment to upgrade the office’s technology.
He also faults Horton for inadequate outreach to the elderly and other property owners who may be entitled to some break on their valuations, if they even know them.
Horton says her office makes presentations at senior centers, in addition to the information on her office’s website. When windstorms twice swept through the Riverside area this summer, appraisers were on-site to help those with damaged property get their assessments adjusted.
Valuation appeals have dropped 65 percent this year, she says.
The laptops were taken away from the assessors because the communication software performed poorly. Horton says she is awaiting the results of beta-testing of a new system by two other counties before buying any more computers.
And she notes the office has upped its game, despite budget cuts and a 20 percent reduction in a staff she credits for the office’s high state ranking.
Trainor has a good record of public service as a member of the East Valley School Board, but we see no reason to displace Horton. Confidence in the fairness of appraisals is critical, and the evidence suggests citizens have that confidence in Horton.
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