Thurston County Assessor Steven Drew said he made some major changes in his office during his first term, including eliminating a three-year backlog of appeals.
“The first thing that I did was reorganize the office,” said Drew, 54, who lives in unincorporated Thurston County.
In fact, his office recently won a prestigious award from the International Association of Assessing Officers for teamwork and customer service.
But Drew’s job performance hasn’t impressed South Sound real estate agent Carol Person who is challenging him in the General Election on Nov. 4.
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“Being in real estate, you’re pretty close to the the ground as far as what’s happening to property values, and what’s going on,” said Person, 60, of Olympia, who is running as an independent.
She said she had some concerns about the Assessor’s Office, and when she looked closer at it, she didn’t like what she found.
“One goes through the process of doing nothing or doing something, and I just decided on doing something,” said Person, who has no political experience and is funding her campaign on her own.
The Thurston County Assessor’s annual salary is $105,276. The elected official is responsible for identifying, locating and fairly valuing all real or personal property within the county for tax purposes.
Drew was an independent property claims adjuster for 18 years before winning the office four years ago. He originally ran because the Assessor’s Office had “lost its way in dealing with customers,” Drew said.
In addition to a reorganization, which eliminated some management positions, Drew said he doubled the appeal process from 30 to 60 days so that taxpayers have more time to research and resolve assessment issues. He said he’s also brought a higher level of transparency to the office.
“We did a mountain of work that first year,” he told The Olympian’s editorial board recently.
One of the biggest challenges for his second term would be handling the county’s budget freeze, Drew said. He said his office is already the county’s “leanest” department.
“Everything we do is mandated by law, with a few tiny exceptions that we wouldn’t change anyway,” Drew said.
If elected, Person said she would be more responsive to property owners’ concerns about their tax assessments.
“Obviously, I want to see assessments that are fair across the board, reliable and as close to market value as possible,” she said.
Person said she would review the office’s appeals to the state, and withdraw “any of those that are frivolous.”
Person’s main criticism about Drew is that she doesn’t think he’s accessible to the general public. If elected, she said she would hold public forums about the assessment and appeal process.
“I’d be very open to talking with taxpayers,” she said. “He seems very unresponsive because he’s never in the office — that’s what I’m being told.”
Drew said his office has improved its web site so that residents can research property sales and home values.
During a public hearing on Monday about the county’s budget, Drew told the Thurston County commissioners that he’ll be able to deal with the budget freeze in his office, but he asked them to restore $50,000 to $75,000 to the Board of Equalization, which operates independently of the Assessor’s Office, and handles appeals on property assessments.
“It would serve the taxpayers who have concerns about their values greatly,” he said at the hearing.