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Assessor continues to display incompetence

Jackson County elected officials will likely see their income increase in the next fiscal year — with one exception. The Jackson County Budget Committee has recommended cost-of-living raises for all, and step increases for those eligible, but has called for County Assessor Dave Arrasmith to be docked one pay grade for repeated errors the assessor’s office has made under his leadership.

Arrasmith will get the cost-of living raise, but after his pay grade is reduced, he will see a net decrease of $1,081.60. That’s a slap on the wrist, but Arrasmith is an elected official who answers only to the voters. The county has no power to remove him.

The Jackson County commissioners last year asked voters if the county charter should be changed to make the assessor an appointed position, reporting to the county administrator along with most other department heads. The Nov. 2, 2021 ballot contained only that question and a Shady Cove City Council race. Turnout was less than 25%. Of the county’s 157,814 registered voters, 21,161 voted to keep the assessor’s position elected, and 17,359 wanted a change.

Even that proposal was not aimed directly at Arrasmith; he would have been able to finish his term, which runs until 2024, before a successor would have been appointed.

The charter change measure came after Arrasmith’s office used the wrong form to prorate taxes paid by owners of property destroyed in the Almeda and South Obenchain fires. Fire survivors underpaid their taxes by nearly half a million dollars as a result.

The latest error on Arrasmith’s watch was that he signed off on the county’s tax rolls, certifying their accuracy despite the fact that they listed 162 manufactured homes that are still standing as having been destroyed in the Almeda fire.

Arrasmith’s explanation for this was that his office intended to go back and fix records on homes that survived the fire, but the tax roll certification deadline came before that was completed. He said his office handled the issue correctly given the staffing he has, but he doesn’t think his staff are overburdened.

The Budget Committee thinks otherwise, saying that since the fires, he has not had a plan to address the additional workload caused by the destruction. County Administrator Danny Jordan notes that Arrasmith has not asked for more workers, unlike other affected departments.

It’s not as though the county can’t afford to give the assessor more help. The Budget Committee last week approved a new annual budget of $573.8 million that includes $209.1 million in reserves.

A competent manager would have requested extra staff as soon as the fires happened. But Arrasmith appears determined to continue business as usual for two more years, while his errors cause headaches for taxpayers and frustration for taxing districts that rely on property taxes to run their operations. And voters, at least the relative few who cast ballots last November, don’t see a reason to hold future assessors accountable for their job performance.