The Jackson County assessor's race this year pits incumbent Josh Gibson, who was appointed in December, against private appraiser Roy Wright, who is perhaps best known for the monthly home sales reports he has produced for two decades. The nonpartisan race will be decided in the May 15 primary election.

The Jackson County assessor's race this year pits incumbent Josh Gibson, who was appointed in December, against private appraiser Roy Wright, who is perhaps best known for the monthly home sales reports he has produced for two decades. The nonpartisan race will be decided in the May 15 primary election.

Both candidates agree the office must focus its efforts on making assessments that reflect the radically shrunken home values in the county.

Gibson, 33, was appointed to the position in December after incumbent Assessor Dan Ross quit, citing a hostile work environment. Both Gibson and Wright say Ross' departure has improved morale in the department.

Gibson, who was an appraiser for eight years before "taking the chair," said he took on the position with one week of training, but now is focusing on increased training for everyone in the office. He said he has started cross-training his 10 appraisers and it should be complete in two years.

"People here were never trained to get the big picture," said Gibson. "The appraisers never were trained to see the end values. They went into the field, got information and it was punched into the system by an office assistant. The computer put the final value on it.

"Appraisers didn't look at listings or comps (comparable sales). Appraisers didn't see what a property was worth unless the owner complained to the Board of Property Tax Appeals. Now, all sales are reviewed by analysts and they (appraisers) get to see what the market was doing."

Wright agreed that training has been lacking and says the assessor's office has been operating under an archaic system created decades ago when the assessor was also the tax collector and the system "was set up to raise revenues."

Wright, 71, said his three-plus decades of experience in dealing with home appraisals would help him put the department more in touch with what is really happening in the real estate market.

"The people in that office have never been given viable, credible training so that their appraisals are accurate with regard to real market value," Wright said. "It's a dysfunctional system. Josh has been doing the best job he can, considering his education in that office. The staff doesn't understand the principles of real estate and it's a big problem."

Wright, who said he mainly does estate appraisals for accountants and lawyers now, is running for assessor because "when you see something's wrong or broken and you have the talent and opportunity to fix it, you do."

What's wrong, in many cases, Wright said, are the assessments placed on homes.

"When you're looking at the sale price and the assessment, the gap is too great," he said.

Evaluations, Wright noted, are "spotty all over the county, with some in east Medford selling for $400,000 when the county has them at $700,000 or $800,000."

"When prices fell, starting in 2006, the assessor's office didn't have the skill to keep up with it."

After Ross' abrupt departure, Gibson said, he has focused on studying the laws governing the job of assessor and bringing the staff up to speed, so they can fully use their skills.

"We've got a good staff," he said.

Gibson observed that, with his eight years in the assessor's office, he's more qualified than Wright, who "does a different type of appraisal."

"He (Wright) does two or three," Gibson said, "and we do whole cities, but his big weakness is he doesn't know those laws, Measure 5 and Measure 50, that control everything we do."

Passed by voters, the measures separated homes' real market value and their assessed value, limiting assessed value growth to no more than 3 percent a year. But they also wound up limiting declines in property taxes as values fell, so homeowners have been increasingly on edge as they've seen their property values go down and their taxes go up.

Both candidates say they support keeping the nonpartisan office elective, not appointive. Voters rejected a county proposal in 2011 to make the position appointive.

"The assessor has always got to be an independent third party and be able to keep an open mind on all issues," said Wright.

"I should not have to answer to anyone except the people who voted in the laws," said Gibson. "I should not be answerable to (county administrator) Danny Jordan."

Both Gibson and Wright are graduates of Southern Oregon University, Gibson with a geography degree and Wright with economics and business degrees. Gibson's working career began in the assessor's office after graduation. Wright worked in the assessor's office for three years before moving to the private sector.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.