Daily Star Questions and Answers
1. Why are you running?
I am running for Pima County assessor because I recognize an urgent need to change the direction that office is going. Over the past few years the assessor’s office has become inaccessible to other county officials and taxpayers, overly aggressive in its desire to litigate disputes against businesses and non-profits and increasingly unwilling to perform traditional duties unless specifically required to by statute regardless of the consequences on the taxpayers or the county’s ability to administer a fair and equitable property tax system.
2. What do you think makes you the best candidate?
My experience over the past ten years, in the assessor’s office and in the county administration’s property assessment litigation unit, has been hands on dealing with the issues and frustrations of all types of taxpayers – homeowners, land developers and commercial property owners. Having the knowledge and the management skills, which I developed in a previous career in the hospitality industry, enables me to effectively make the changes needed to correct the problems and create a culture of public service in the assessor’s office.
3. If elected, what would be your top priority?
The long term goal is to move the county’s property tax administration onto a software platform that integrates assessor and treasurer functions and makes property record data accessible in a visualized map format. But the immediate tasks will be to get the taxpayers out of the costly burden of the current assessor’s litigation with Raytheon, Primavera Foundation and others. Also, restore access to the assessor’s data to other county departments and real estate professionals that was taken away last year and reinstate the assessor’s public service unit to begin better relations with taxpayers.
4. What is your opinion of how the County Assessor’s office interacts with residential taxpayers? How would you improve the process, if at all?
Unless a homeowner is appealing their valuation there is little interaction with assessor’s office. When a taxpayer calls the County’s tax helpline it goes to the budget division where they have to figure out where to direct the call. This gives the taxpayers the impression of a run around. The assessor had a Public Service unit up until the 2015/2016 fiscal year when it was no longer funded. The first class I had to take to be a certified appraiser by the ADOR was on Arizona’s property tax system. The assessor’s staff has the training and the knowledge so why shouldn’t they be the first to answer the homeowner’s call?
5. What is your opinion of how the County Assessor’s Office interacts with commercial / business taxpayers? How would you improve the process, if at all?
The assessor’s office has very strained relations with commercial / business taxpayers primarily because they are mostly represented by property tax consultants. It is actually the relations with the tax consultants that has digressed so far now that the assessor’s appraisers will not testify on the record at administrative appeal hearings. Since I left the assessor’s office and now work with the county attorney’s office to resolve property tax disputes against the county, I have learned that cooperation and the exercise of reasonable discretion produces far better outcomes for the county’s interests as well as the taxpayers. For example, this past year we settled on the valuations for the Carondelet hospitals that are now majority owned and managed by Tenet Healthcare, a for profit corporation. Not only did we cooperate to come to a meeting of the minds on how to value the hospitals, we also managed to get it timely done so there would not be huge tax bills and subsequent refunds for this year as the properties came off exempt status.
6. How much of the information collected by the assessor’s office should be made public? Why?
The assessor’s office collects certain business and other information that is statutorily confidential. Obviously that is not to be made public. All other data that the assessor’s office collects to produce the valuations and property records should be made available to the public is an accessible format. Transparency is the key to trust in government processes. Also, property record data is useful for economic development as it is analyzed by real estate professionals, developers and other governmental agencies.
7. Do you think assessor staff should be able to go onto private property to do their jobs? Why or why not?
Physical inspection of a property is an essential element of appraisal, so the assessor’s appraisal staff needs access to private property. This aspect of their job should be handled in a responsible manner by making appointments and properly introducing themselves and their purpose for the site inspection.
8. What do you think about the assessor staff using drones to do their jobs?
I’m sure there are instances where a drone would be able to document, take photos, of property that is difficult to access. But I think that for the moment there isn’t enough guidance to insure that privacy concerns are fully addressed. This is a technology that may be useful down the road but I wouldn’t put it on my to-do list now.
My candidacy is no longer viable after losing the Democratic primary election. But that does not mean the issues and problems at the Assessor's office that I was trying to correct have gone away.
I have met many great people along the way of this campaign and I am certain that some of the issues can be solved with the help of state legislators and local county Supervisors. I have this website going (paid) until next year so I will continue to use it as a resource to educate and gain support for those issues that are important to us as Pima County citizens and taxpayers.
for Pima County
Paid for by Brian Johnson for Pima County Assessor.
My Campaign is focused
on providing Cooperation,
Service & Competency
Property Records & Valuation Data -
Public Record or Propriety Data?
Over the past few years the current Assessor, Bill Staples, has made the Assessor's records increasingly less accessible. Last fall he cut the link on the TAR/MLS page that Real Estate professionals use to get listing information. When asked why he stated that the link allowed people to 'skim' his data.
That data that Bill Staples deems his is collected and generated by his staff who are government employees paid with tax dollars.
Not only does the Assessor's information systems need to be upgraded and modernized, they need to be made so that the public - Real Estate professionals, developers, other government agencies and any stakeholders in the future development of our communities - can easily gather and understand the information they need.