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Voters could make tax assessor an appointed position

Dave Arrasmith
County commissioners may place issue on November ballot

Jackson County voters could decide in November whether to make the tax assessor a hired county staff position rather than an elected office.

Current Assessor David Arrasmith is an elected official. Under his management, the tax assessor’s office has made at least three major mistakes that affected thousands of tax accounts ― leading to frustration for taxpayers and an overwhelming workload for county staff to correct the errors.

In the latest mistake, Arrasmith didn’t notice his staff members were using the wrong form to calculate the property tax bills of Almeda and South Obenchain fire survivors. County workers will have to recalculate thousands of tax bills and tell survivors they owe money that could total up to $466,000 for everyone combined.

The September 2020 fires destroyed or damaged more than 2,800 properties, including homes and businesses.

Jackson County commissioners decided Tuesday to start the process of putting the issue of the tax assessor’s status before voters.

Commissioners will schedule a public hearing in the near future to take comments, then decide whether to put a county charter amendment before voters in November. The amendment would change the tax assessor position from elected to appointed.

An appointed tax assessor would have to go through a job application, interview and hiring process with county commissioners and staff.

Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said putting the issue before voters would allow them to decide whether they want an elected or appointed tax assessor.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said she does have concerns about no longer having an elected tax assessor, who must answer to all voters in Jackson County.

Roberts said she generally opposes efforts to eliminate elected positions, but she doesn’t mind referring the issue to voters. She said the errors in the tax assessor’s office have been unacceptable.

Voters reelected Arrasmith to a four-year term that started in January. Two of his office’s errors that affected more than 91,000 tax accounts had already been made public in 2018, but the error affecting fire survivors hadn’t yet been discovered by the Oregon Department of Revenue.

The state Department of Revenue and the county’s internal auditing department are reviewing the tax assessor’s office.

Jackson County Commissioner Dave Dotterrer said it made sense 100 years ago to elect a tax assessor, but the position has become so technical that appointing a person after a hiring process might be more appropriate.

Dotterrer said he doesn’t want to make the issue about Arrasmith.

If voters did make the tax assessor an appointed position, it’s not clear what would happen to Arrasmith, said Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton.

Benton said he has to do more legal research to find out what happens to an elected official if that person’s job becomes an appointed position in the midst of the person’s term in office.

Years ago, voters rejected a proposal to turn the tax assessor, county clerk and county surveyor into appointed positions.

The county coroner and county treasurer were once elected positions, but those jobs are now done by the hired county medical examiner and the hired county treasurer/finance director.

Arrasmith’s annual salary of $116,646 will grow to $124,966 in January 2022 once a cost-of-living raise and a raise for gaining experience on the job take effect.

Placing the issue of the assessor’s status as an elected or appointed person on the November ballot will cost the county tens of thousands of dollars. County staff will research the exact figure.

Some voters have expressed interest in mounting a recall campaign against Arrasmith. That effort requires multiple steps, including collecting at least 15,286 valid signatures from county voters.

Arrasmith did not respond to phone or email requests for comment from the Mail Tribune.

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