The two candidates in the Thurston County Assessor's race, Glen Morgan and Steve Drew, presented themselves as outsiders compared with their opponents before the primary election, agreeing more needs to be done to improve customer service, ensure the accuracy of property valuations and address a backlog of property-tax appeals at the Assessor's Office.
Now, they’ll have to distinguish their differences from each other before next month’s general election.
Drew, a Democrat, says that starts with his relevant business experience; he has worked as an independent property-claims adjuster in the state since 1983. He also has served in various capacities with six nonprofits, helping to set plans, set goals and measure benchmarks, Drew said.
“All of those skills lend themselves to what goes on at that office at the management level,” he said.
Drew also said he has won the support of the Assessor’s Office staff members and an endorsement from former assessor candidate Jeff Gadman, who did not receive enough votes in the primary to advance. Gadman is a longtime commercial and industrial appraiser in the same office.
Morgan, a Republican, says, he, too, has the right work experience. He has managed groups of people and large budgets, and although he hasn’t won any endorsements, the only endorsement he says he is looking for is from the voter.
“I’m not a political insider, and I haven’t asked for any endorsements,” Morgan said. He said that if elected, he also will require the Assessor’s Office to undergo a full performance audit and make it public so taxpayers can see “the good, bad and ugly of what’s going on.”
Morgan also said he supports taxing the corporation that jointly owns the Great Wolf Lodge resort in Grand Mound and says Drew does not. Drew disagrees with that assertion.
Morgan is referring to the county’s three-year effort to collect resort property taxes from a corporation called CTGW LLC, a company established under Delaware state law and formed by the Chehalis Indian Tribe and Great Wolf Resorts Inc. of Wisconsin. After the county tried to collect taxes, the tribe sued the county in federal court. Current Assessor Patricia Costello, who retires at the end of the year, said the county’s tax-collection efforts are focused on the corporation, not the tribe.
“We’re taxing a non-tribal Delaware corporation,” Costello told The Olympian in April, about the time that a federal judge ruled in the county’s favor. The ruling since has been appealed, and Costello said Thursday that trial briefs in the appeal are due Oct. 24.
Meanwhile, a mediation date between the two sides is set for Dec. 2, although the tribe is trying to postpone the mediation date and the appeal process until next year, when a new assessor will take over, she said. After three years, CTGW LLC owes the county $3.82 million in property taxes, not including penalties and interest, Costello said.
Morgan said that if he’s elected, he will pursue taxing the corporation “all the way to the Supreme Court, if need be.”
Drew says he likely would’ve come to the same conclusion about the need for the corporation to pay taxes, but he also says that he would’ve worked more closely with the tribes to avoid the need for litigation.
Drew has raised about $40,700. Contributors include the Thurston County Democrats, the Chehalis Indian Tribe, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, labor groups and County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, according to state Public Disclosure Commission records. Morgan has raised about $23,600. Contributors include the Affordable Housing Council, Washington Association of Realtors, The Rants Group and the Lacey Business League, PDC data show.