Assessor race centered on performance issues Thurston County assessor

The primary race for Thurston County assessor is shaping up as a referendum on the current administration, with three of the four candidates saying not enough has been done to address the backlog of property tax appeals or to ensure that property valuations are correct. The deadline to vote is Aug. 17.

The race is split between two people who already work in the Assessor’s Office and two from the private sector. Dennis Pulsipher is the current chief deputy assessor for the county, and Jeff Gadman is a longtime commercial and industrial appraiser in the same office. Steve Drew is an independent property claims adjuster, and Glen Morgan is a business consultant and business turnaround specialist who also sometimes works with startup companies.

All four are running to replace Assessor Patricia Costello, who will retire at the end of the year.

Although Gadman works in the Assessor’s Office, he is more closely aligned with Drew and Morgan on campaign issues. All three say they want to improve office efficiencies, improve the accuracy of property valuations and address the backlog of property tax appeals.

“We have to check values more closely before they are set,” Gadman said, adding that by doing that it should reduce the number of appeals to the Board of Equalization.

The county’s Board of Equalization, which hears and decides these appeals, made headlines in June when it was learned that hundreds of taxpayers have been forced to wait more than 16 months to have their appeals heard. The delay has lengthened significantly as the number of appeals has exploded in recent years.

In 2006, 783 appeals were filed, according to data provided by the board. The number more than doubled during the two subsequent years, to 1,927 in 2007 and 1,986 in 2008.

Board clerk Ruth Elder predicts that up to 1,200 appeals were filed for last year’s assessment, although the exact number isn’t known because they’re still being processed, according to a June story in The Olympian.

Gadman said the appeals process is expensive for the county. “We need to get that under control so that we have the freedom in the budget to do other things,” he said.

Morgan was partly spurred to run for a similar reason. His father has successfully appealed his residential property valuations for nine straight years, and yet nothing changes, Morgan said.

“Every year they come back with the original values,” he said. “They don’t adjust them (property values) when they’re found to be incorrect.”

Drew, too, wants to address the backlog of property tax appeals, saying the culture at the policy-setting level must be changed.

“I want a renewed focus on customer service,” he said. Drew also said he’s the right man for the job because he is a business owner and creative problem solver, and that he has won endorsements from local politicians and heads of agencies from throughout Thurston County. Morgan said he will bring a private sector approach to the job, with new thinking to address problems and fix them.

Pulsipher touted his own experience as the right fit for the Assessor’s Office.

“It’s critically important to have the right leadership to run this size of an organization,” he said, adding that every year the Assessor’s Office revalues more than 120,000 parcels that total about $30 billion.

“The mass appraisal process is very different,” said Pulsipher, calling it “highly complex, very technical work.”

“It really boils down to background and experience,” he said.

On a separate issue, all four generally agreed that the joint owners of Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound should be required to pay property taxes based on improvements to the resort property.

The county filed suit against The Chehalis Indian Tribe and Great Wolf Resorts of Wisconsin to force them to pay those taxes. Although Drew agrees that he likely would’ve taken the same action with the joint owners of the resort, he thinks the Assessor’s Office could’ve done a better job reaching out to the owners before it became an issue.

“The fact that the county is now wasting taxpayer dollars on litigation could’ve been avoided had there been a dialogue with the tribe as that partnership was being formed prior to construction of the resort,” he said. “I will encourage my staff to reach out to those sovereign governments.”

But Pulsipher defended the county and the Assessor’s Office role in the lawsuit, saying the county discussed the property tax issue with the joint owners of the lodge for a year before taking legal action.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the county in April.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/bizblog

Thurston County assessor

Jeff Gadman

Age: 49.

Occupation: Commercial/industrial appraiser in the Thurston County Assessor’s Office.

Education: Graduated from Olympia High School, South Puget Sound Community College and attended Saint Martin’s University until his senior year.

Contact information: 7304 38th Drive S.E., Lacey, WA 98503, 360-628-6876, gadmanforassessor@q.com.

Political party: Prefers Democratic Party.

Fundraising: About $7,000.

Glen Morgan

Age: 39.

Occupation: Business consultant, business turnaround specialist.

Education: Graduated from Columbia University with bachelor’s degree in international affairs, political science.

Contact information: Lives in Tenino but campaign office is at 1001 Cooper Point Road S.W., Suite 140-222, Olympia, WA 98502, 360-791-6556, glen@morganforassessor.com.

Political party: Prefers Republican Party.

Fundraising: About $11,000.

Steve Drew

Age: 50.

Occupation: Independent property claims adjuster.

Education: Graduated from William Howard Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., and attended Pierce College in same area for two years.

Contact information: 8729 Fernwood St. N.E., Olympia, WA 98516, 360-455-8810, steven@stevendrewforcountyassessor.com.

Political party: Prefers Democratic Party.

Fundraising: About $27,000.

Dennis Pulsipher

Age: 55.

Occupation: Chief deputy assessor of Thurston County Assessor’s Office.

Education: Graduated from Eastern Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in economics and has a master’s degree in public administration from The Evergreen State College.

Contact information: P.O. Box 6023, Olympia, WA 98507, 360-866-7788, dennis@dennispulsipher.com.

Political party: Prefers Democratic Party.

Fundraising: About $26,000.