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Assessor won’t get merit raise due to errors

The Jackson County Budget Committee has denied the county assessor an annual merit raise after he failed to catch two errors that affected 91,133 property tax accounts.

However, David Arrasmith will receive a 2.65 percent cost-of-living raise that will boost his $96,970 salary to $99,549 beginning in July.

His annual pay would have jumped to $104,499 if the Budget Committee had granted him the merit raise that would have taken effect in January 2019.

The county calculates the 2.65 percent cost-of-living raise by multiplying that percentage by a rounded hourly pay rate, then multiplying that figure by the number of work hours in a year.

The results are slightly different than if the county multiplied Arrasmith’s annual salary by the 2.65 percent.

On Thursday, the three citizen members of the Budget Committee told Jackson County’s three commissioners, who also sit on the committee, that they want the county to research the pros and cons of continuing to have the assessor as an elected position.

The assessor’s office has faced turmoil under three assessors, including Arrasmith, who took office in 2017.

In 2011, longtime assessor Dan Ross abruptly resigned, citing a hostile work environment. Some former employees said it was Ross himself who created a hostile environment by firing workers who disagreed with him.

Assessor Josh Gibson resigned at the end of 2015, citing health issues and a desire to spend more time with his family. He declined to say whether the decision was related to an incident in which he urinated in public at a golf course while attending an assessors conference in Hood River.

Gibson received his full annual salary of $99,674 in 2015, although he stopped working in November. He also received a $28,531 severance payment, according to public records obtained by the Mail Tribune.

Voters had the choice to make the elected assessor, county clerk and county surveyor positions into appointed staff positions in a 2011 election, but rejected all three measures.

Dick Rudisile, citizen member of the Budget Committee, said members of the public didn’t receive enough information about the proposals and viewed the changes as a power grab.

This time, he advocated asking voters only to make the assessor an appointed staff position.

“It’s not a power grab. It’s an efficiency thing that’s needed in this day and age,” Rudisile said.

Although assessors had more leeway 50 or 100 years ago, he said their jobs are largely dictated by regulations now.

An elected person might not have the experience to handle the complexities of managing a modern assessor’s office, Rudisile said.

The citizen members of the Budget Committee said current Jackson County Surveyor Scott Fein and Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker do a professional job, but someday an unqualified person could win election to those offices.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said the past proposals to change the elected status of the assessor, surveyor and clerk were resounding failures at the ballot box.

“In my opinion, the people spoke. They want to elect their assessor,” she said.

Roberts said all elected officials, including the assessor and commissioners, face a learning curve when they first take office and can make mistakes.

Commissioners Rick Dyer and Bob Strosser were open to exploring the pros and cons of an elected versus an appointed assessor.

Dyer said errors committed while an elected official is still learning can have dire consequences.

He said a blue ribbon task force set up to study the issue of an elected or appointed assessor could provide valuable information.

“Ultimately, it would come down to a decision of the voters,” Dyer noted.

Strosser said the assessor position is not just a technical job, but requires administrative and supervisory skills. He said he wants information to be gathered on whether an assessor should be elected.

“Better knowledge creates better decisions,” Strosser said.

Arrasmith missed two errors when he certified the 2017 tax rolls as accurate.

In the first error, Jackson County Fire District 4 filed paperwork with the assessor’s office asking for 9.9 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value from a recently approved levy.

However, voters for the Shady Cove area fire district had approved 10 times that amount — 99 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The second error was caused inside the assessor’s office itself when the Central Point Urban Renewal District was alloted almost three times the tax revenue it was supposed to receive.

The county had to send out more than 3,000 corrected tax bills for errors of more than $10, and another 88,000 accounts with smaller errors had to be corrected internally in the system so dozens of tax districts in the county received their proper share of funding, according to Shannon Bell, Jackson County tax collector, finance director and treasurer.

The treasurer position was once an elected office in Jackson County, but is now an appointed staff position.

The tax collector’s office, which is separate from the assessor’s office, was inundated with more calls from frustrated, confused taxpayers than it could handle and had to borrow employees from the assessor’s office.

Arrasmith met with the citizen members of the Budget Committee early Thursday morning to discuss how the mistakes happened and steps he is taking to prevent future errors. He previously met with commissioners about the mistakes.

“I’m the head of the department. I’ve got no problem in accepting the blame for that,” he said.

From now on, Arrasmith said his office will reach out and check with the 46 taxing districts in the county if they submit paperwork that doesn’t look reasonable. The office will also have multiple people reviewing information for mistakes.

He said he regrets not catching the errors.

“It’s unfortunate, and I’m sad that it happened,” Arrasmith said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

David Arrasmith