Assessor rebuts foe's charge on appeal rate

Thurston County Assessor Patricia Costello said attacks by Tom Crowson, her challenger in the Nov. 7 general election, were "so uninformed" that it was "scary" that he was running for office.

"I don't think he understands what it is we do here," said Costello, a Democrat seeking a third four-year term, of Crowson, a Republican, on Monday. "He knows that his statements are false."

But Crowson, a homebuilder, appraiser and former firefighter who was also an unsuccessful candidate for Congress, maintained he is being contacted daily by residents upset over "nightmares" with assessment revaluations or appeals.

"Patricia is campaigning on customer service, but what I'm getting is that there is no customer service," said Crowson, 54, of Olympia on Monday. "People are just being handed an appeal form, and in effect, staff is saying, 'get out of my hair.' "

Costello, 67, who lives in the county outside of Lacey, disputed criticisms by Crowson that Thurston County's ratio of assessment appeals was higher than in comparable counties.

She said appeal statistics are skewed because Thurston County reports every appeal that is filed - even if it later is withdrawn. Other counties might report only appeals that are actually heard before their Board of Equalization.

"She may have a point," said David Saavedra, of the Department of Revenue's property tax division, on Monday. "We would have to verify that."

Costello also refuted anonymous allegations sent to the Olympian that she lived in Arizona seven or eight months of the year and only worked in the county office part time.

"I am in the office every day," Costello said. "This is a full-time job - you can't do it part time."

Costello said she bought a retirement home in Buckeye, outside of Phoenix, about two years ago, but has stayed there 10 days in the past two years. She says she does not plan to live in Arizona, where she has family, until she retires in about four years.

Thurston County, with 116,000 parcels of land, is one of 18 of 39 counties in the state that reassess - or revalue - the whole county every year. The other 18 counties reassess one-fourth of the county every year.

Of the counties that do the full annual assessment, Thurston County had the second-highest rate of appeals - or 0.99 percent - in 2004, said Mike Gowrylow of the state Department of Revenue.

However, when factoring in all of the counties, Thurston was tied for the eighth-highest ratio of appeals in 2004, Gowrylow said.

Costello said several factors influence appeal rates, including the percentage of market rate the assessment is based on. Thurston County assessments averaged about 90 percent of market rate in 2005, but Pierce County assessments, for example, averaged about 87 percent of market rate, according to state Revenue Department figures, Costello said.

She said the county was up to date in responding to any public questions or concerns about assessments and was "constantly" updating its assessment database.

"Personally, I don't think (the appeal rate is) a statistic he should be campaigning on," she said. "It's moot." As far as customer service, Costello pointed to an award given her office earlier this month by the International Association of Assessing Officers.

The trade group honored the Thurston County office for its assessment response and education program.

Crowson said he was not convinced.

"She has a lot of people who don't like her," he said. "All I've tried to is focus in on the issues and ways the office could be improved."

Keri Brenner covers Thurston County and Tumwater for the Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5435 and kbrenner@theolympian.com.