Spokane County voters will choose between two Republicans to serve as the next assessor.
But both candidates are stressing their nonpartisan credentials, agreeing that while they believe the office should be filled by someone who is elected, it would be better if the office were nonpartisan.
Vicki Horton, who is finishing her second term as assessor, is retiring. Her potential replacements are former state Rep. Leonard Christian and Tom Konis, who works in the assessor’s office and was recruited by Horton to run.
The Spokane County assessor’s office is responsible for assessing property values, calculating levy rates and processing various exemptions.
The election is only a few months from when the assessor’s office notified property owners of significant property value increases. Spokane County’s property valuations hit a record high at $49.7 billion this year and some homeowners saw double-digit increases in assessed values.
“I’m truly concerned with the way our escalating prices are. I don’t know how young people could afford their first house,” Konis said. “On the commercial side, we are seeing a big influx of out-of-town buyers coming in and they are paying substantially more than we’ve seen before.”
Christian said he’s also concerned about the rise in property valuations after receiving a 17 percent increase on his home.
“I thought it was pretty steep. Because as a Realtor, I’m currently out in the market and I’m not seeing a 17 percent increase currently in the market,” he said. “It’s definitely a significant increase.”
Christian said it’s important that assessments are accurate.
“We have some folks out there that have talked to me about their (assessments) and I think one of the things that drives a higher or lower assessment is that something is not accurate in the computer,” he said. “So, that’s something I’ll be focusing on is getting those records accurate.”
But the main difference highlighted by the two candidates is experience.
Konis said his technical knowledge of the job makes him the better candidate. He’s been employed with the county assessor’s office for close to 25 years as an accredited residential and commercial appraiser.
The assessor, Konis said, isn’t a “learn on-the-job” position because of many state and mandated requirements.
Christian said it’s more important to have a managerial background like his, pointing to his experience as a state legislator, where he sat on the capital budget, government operations and oversight committees. The annual budget for the county assessor’s office is more than $3 million.
“So, it’s not about going out and assessing a home … the assessor is managing all the folks who do that duty,” he said. “And I believe I’m the best candidate for that job.”
Konis said if elected he would improve staff training, explore new technology options to boost efficiency with property valuations and expand communication between the assessor’s office and residents.
“I want to be out front telling people what the assessor’s office does,” Konis said. “I want the increases that we are experiencing now not to be a surprise to them when they get the postcard in the mail. We need to tell them that’s coming.”
Both candidates want to improve technology to ensure streamlined appraisals.
Christian said appraisers are still using digital cameras to take pictures and upload them in the county’s system, which is a cumbersome process. He said he will focus on obtaining better technology for appraisers, which will save time and labor costs.
“Anytime you can save five to 10 minutes per house, that’s saving the taxpayers money,” he said.
Konis said the assessor’s office is limited by its appraisal software purchased a few years ago, but may consider iPad usage in the future that allows instant photo uploads to the county’s website.
The assessor’s office encountered a staffing shortage last year when six appraisers retired and their positions weren’t immediately filled. As a result, property valuations were more than four months late.
Both Christian and Konis said they would take steps to ensure the office is fully staffed in the future by implementing a process to train and recruit new employees.
Christian said there are plenty of former Realtors with excellent real estate knowledge who would be good candidates for employment.
“If you want to recruit people, you just don’t stick an ad in the paper,” Christian said. “I’m not a big fan of sticking a sign out saying we’re hiring … you go out and look for talented people to come be part of the office.”
Konis said the county’s human resources department typically doesn’t post a job opening until the position is vacated, but the office is taking steps to recruit by adjusting the job description to attract more applicants.
“We hired four people that had never appraised property before. All four of them are fantastic,” he said. “Right now, top to bottom, the 43 employees in the assessor’s office are the best I’ve seen in 25 years I’ve been there.”