In race for assessor, outsiders lead insiders

The two men who don't work at the Thurston County Assessor's Office were leading the two that do, with Republican Glen Morgan capturing more than 44 percent of the vote, according to initial results.

Morgan, a Tenino-based business consultant, was followed by independent property claims adjuster Steve Drew, Chief Deputy Assessor Dennis Pulsipher and Jeff Gadman, a commercial and industrial appraiser in the same office.

“We are pleasantly surprised,” Morgan said about the early results. “I think people are dissatisfied with how the Assessor’s Office is run and we both benefited from that,” he said about himself and Drew.

Drew, who could not be reached, followed Morgan with 22.32 percent of the vote, then it was Pulsipher narrowly behind him at 20.67 percent and Gadman with 12.21 percent, the initial tally showed.

Pulsipher wasn’t ready to concede, he said Tuesday night.

“It’s been a good race and it is very close,” Pulsipher said. “Let’s wait and see when the next batch (of ballots) comes in and go from there.”

Gadman said he was surprised by the results, but added that because he, Pulsipher and Drew ran as Democrats, they likely took votes away from each other.

“The three of us having the same message made the voters’ choice harder,” he said. “I like Steve and I like Glen and working with either one of them would be very, very easy.”

All four were running to replace Assessor Patricia Costello, who will retire at the end of the year. The Assessor’s job pays $105,000 annually.

Although Gadman works in the Assessor’s Office, he was more closely aligned with Drew and Morgan on campaign issues. All three said they wanted 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 recently, 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.

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.

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

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403