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Team effort a hopeful sign for assessor’s office

Two weeks after county officials criticized Assessor Dave Arrasmith for sitting on a scathing state audit report listing major problems in his office, a team involving capable experts from other county departments has begun working to fix them.

Jackson County Finance Director Shannon Bell, the county’s own auditors and Angela Stuhr, a manager in the assessor’s office, are working on a plan to tackle the problems, some of which could take years to fix.

Jackson County Auditor Eric Spivak compiled a spreadsheet listing the issues and identifying those easiest to fix quickly. Arrasmith now says his office has already fixed some of those.

“I believe the process is going forward,” Arasmith said. “It’s moving right along.”

That positive, cooperative tone is a far cry from the obstruction and avoidance of responsibility he demonstrated at the meeting with commissioners two weeks ago.

The Oregon Department of Revenue, which issued the critical report, has said it wants a plan by Nov. 1 on how to make sure the assessor’s office functions are being performed adequately. Although it was a string of errors by the office that prompted the review, Arrasmith said it should be up to the Department of Revenue to develop a plan, and that it was not his impression that the state wanted him to put a plan together.

The errors included miscalculating taxes on burned and unburned property in the fire zone of the Labor Day 2020 fires. In 2018, Arrasmith’s office certified a Fire District 4 levy for 9.9 cents per $1,000 of assessed value when it should have been 99 cents, and diverted a share of tax revenue to the Central Point Urban Renewal District from the entire city rather than just the area within the district’s boundary.

The July 18 state audit report said the office is not computing taxes in compliance with the law. An additional 11 functions are being performed in ways that put them at risk of being out of compliance. Only five functions were being done in an acceptable way, and only two of those are actually done by the assessor’s office.

This may sound like bureaucratic nitpicking, but it’s not. These errors have the potential to cost taxpayers money and deprive taxing districts of needed revenue.

Until now, Arrasmith has been anything but helpful in addressing the problems, deflecting blame and refusing to accept responsibility for fixing them. Now he appears to be on board with this team effort.

Arrasmith has shown no inclination to step down and allow the county commissioners to appoint a competent replacement, and he isn’t up for election until 2024. It’s frustrating that county taxpayers will be on the hook for his salary of more than $120,000 a year until then.

But at least Arrasmith is now showing that he has enough sense to stay out of the way while others clean up the mess.