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Still time to vote on county assessor status

Yes, there is an election on Tuesday and yes, for most voters there is only one item on the ballot: a measure placed there by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners that asks voters to amend the county charter to make the office of county assessor no longer an elected position. Shady Cove voters are also choosing a city council member.

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The charter change is not very exciting, and it’s tempting to ignore the official ballot taking up space on your counter or wherever unread mail lives in your house. Here’s why you should take the trouble to fill it out and drop it off anyway.

There was a time in Oregon’s distant past when the county assessor had some leeway in setting property values. It made sense for voters to choose the person to perform that task.

Today, property valuation is far more complicated, and every step in the appraisal and assessment process is prescribed by state law under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Revenue. It is not a political position. A county assessor has no power to deviate from state law and makes no policy decisions.

At the same time, the position involves running a department and supervising the team of trained specialists who do the work of appraising property and preparing the tax rolls each year. The job requires a skilled administrator with a thorough grasp of laws and procedures. Voters are ill-equipped to judge those qualifications.

As long as competent people are elected, no harm is done. Problems occur when someone wins election to the office but performs poorly. That can hurt taxpayers — and taxing districts such as school and fire districts, libraries and local governments that depend on property taxes for their operating budgets.

The incumbent assessor, David Arrasmith, has a history of major errors that cost time and money to fix. The most recent involved using the wrong form to prorate the taxes paid by owners of property destroyed in the Almeda and South Obenchain fires. As a result, fire survivors underpaid their taxes by nearly half a million dollars.

The details of what happened and why are not at issue here. This really isn’t about Arrasmith or any other assessor. It’s about the best way to run an important and highly technical county department.

Passing Measure 15-201 won’t remove Arrasmith from office. He was last elected in 2020 and can serve the remainder of his four-year term if he wishes. But going forward, the next assessor would be hired — and fired if necessary — by the Jackson County administrator just like any other county department head.

Changing the charter would provide a remedy in case any future assessor fails to perform the job competently.

A new law allowing mail-in ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by election day and received within a week does not take effect until 2022, so for Tuesday’s election, postmarks still do not count. Ballots must be received by the Elections Department by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Drop boxes are situated at the public libraries in Rogue River, Eagle Point, Central Point, Medford, Phoenix and Ashland, as well as in front of the Elections Department, 1101 W. Main St. in Medford.