Assessor hopefuls take questions before vote
EAGLE COUNTY – The race for county commissioner isn’t the only reason to vote in the Aug. 8 party primary.Republicans must choose a candidate to run for Eagle County assessor. This year, incumbent Joyce Mack is being challenged by Ed Smith, a longtime employee in the office. Registered Republicans can vote for candidates in the primary.Whoever wins the primary will face Democrat Mark Chapin in the November general election.Chapin will get his chance to answer questions this fall. For now, the Vail Daily has asked three questions of Smith and Mack. • The current assessor doesn’t have a state-issued appraiser’s license. This isn’t a legal requirement of the job, but it has become a campaign issue.Why does it matter whether or not a county assessor holds an appraiser’s license?
Mack: As with all other elected positions within the county, except for the sheriff and surveyor, our Colorado statutes and state constitution have dictated that no additional licensing is required to hold office. Results, and not a license, are the requirements of this position.My responsibility to the taxpayers of Eagle County is to ensure that all statutory requirements are met in an accurate and timely fashion. During my tenure, our office has consistently passed the rigorous state auditing requirements while reducing property tax appeals 46 percent since 2001. I will continue to provide progressive appraisal techniques, continuing education to both the public and my staff, and appropriate staffing to ensure a continuation of this positive trend. Additionally, since 2003 I have taken over 200 hours of appraisal classes, well over the 75 hours required for registered licensing and am more than qualified to serve in the role.Smith: Of the 64 county assessors in Colorado, 56 have some level of license. Of the eight counties with assessors without licenses seven are counties with much smaller populations than Eagle County. A license is not required by law but I feel it is important. A license demonstrates the holder has gained a level of understanding of the appraisal process which becomes instrumental when determining how staff appraisers establish value and explaining to property owners how value was derived. The ability to obtain a license demonstrates an understanding of the job. There are situations in which a property owner will speak only to the assessor. In those cases the assessor needs to demonstrate that knowledge and be able to communicate clearly so the property owner understands his questions have been answered completely and thoroughly.
• Much of the work the assessor’s office does is governed by fairly specific formulas set in state law. With that in mind, what other skills does a county assessor need to get this job done?Mack: The assessor reports directly to the taxpayers of Eagle County and should have a service-oriented attitude to this taxpaying public. In this regard, I have apprised the public as to the workings of the assessor’s office through print and televised media. I have introduced an enhanced computer service information system at the county annex offices in El Jebel and Avon as well as bringing enhanced services to the Web site to further assist taxpayers. I have brought in the State Department of Taxation to teach several classes for the benefit of all Western Slope counties. My efforts in this regard have not gone unnoticed by my peers. I have been chosen as a state representative to the International Association of Assessing Officers. Additionally, I have been nominated by the president of the Colorado Assessor’s Association to attend the Rocky Mountain Program at the University of Colorado. Smith: Operating within the budgetary constraints of the office and being a wise and careful steward of taxpayer funds is the primary skill. Serving the public with honesty, courtesy and respect is mandatory. The assessor must have good people skills to work with the public, employees, and departments within the county. The assessor needs not only the ability to lead and manage people effectively, but also the desire to do so. The assessor must encourage team spirit and lead by example. The assessor must recognize the needs of the staff and provide them with the necessary equipment and training to perform their professional duties. The assessor must also be honest with staff and the public. The assessor must possess appraisal and basic math skills.
• Under what circumstances should a county assessor make an adjustment to the value of a property owner’s home?Mack: Values should be changed to achieve equity for the taxpaying public. There are several circumstances that may lead to a change in valuation – field verifications, incorrect square footages, clerical errors, damages to property due to natural disasters, depreciation, changes in percentage completed during new construction, sales trends, and the list goes on. Many changes will be assessor’s office-generated to correct inequities or errors. All such assessor-generated changes are subject to review through the state audit process. Additional changes may be made through the appeals process that may include review by the assessor’s office, the Board of County Commissioners sitting as the Board of Equalization, independent hearing officers appointed by the commissioners, district court judges, arbitrators, or the state-appointed Board of Assessment Appeals.Smith: The assessor is a manager who is not directly involved setting value and must consult with the appraiser involved in valuing the property to determine what action, if any, should be taken. Understanding this process is another good reason for the assessor to be licensed. The value assigned must indicate a market value based on sales of comparable properties. Any situation that results in a value different from market must be corrected. Situations that require adjustments include but are not limited to the following:• Incorrect inventory of the property being appraised which will affect value. An example is incorrect square footage. • A physical condition which affects value which has not been recognized by the assessor, such as a cracked foundation which needs repairs.
• Using sales that are not similar to the property being valued. The assessor cannot use a sale of a condominium to value a single family residence.Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado