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.
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.
My Campaign is focused
on providing Cooperation,
Service & Competency
for Pima County
Property taxation doesn’t have to be an adversarial ‘Government versus Business’ face off. I will work with business leaders, developers, non-profit community organizations and other governmental agencies to achieve a common goal – valuations and exemptions that result in fair and reasonable property taxes. We need property taxes to support our schools, community colleges, libraries and necessary government services like law enforcement, transportation, health, roads, fire protection and flood protection. The assessor’s role in the process needs to come out of the court system – that is expensive and unproductive – and become openly engaged in the community.
The assessor, by nature of the responsibilities of the office, collects and creates a lot of data that is not only useful on valuing property but also very useful to the business and real estate communities. Currently we have an attitude of reclusiveness and propriety concerning the collection, storage and availability of the data collected. That needs to change. There is 21st century technology available from a variety of vendors that provide platforms to integrate mapping, treasurer and assessor functions, development services functions and property related documents into single point of access. I will take the leadership role in bringing that about in Pima County.
Too often failures, big and small, of government agencies are a result of poorly managing the professional development of the staff. The assessor’s office is no exception. I will promote pay equity with the private sector, bring in professional training from accredited sources, establish a career path for employees and work with SEIU, of which I am a member, to enhance a positive and engaged workplace. This will result in a reduction of employee turnover, overall savings by increasing efficiency and eliminating costly mistakes and most importantly, competent and trustworthy service to the citizens of Pima County.
Paid for by Brian Johnson for Pima County Assessor.