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Voters to decide whether tax assessor remains elected post

Arrasmith
Current tax assessor under scrutiny for series of errors

Jackson County voters will decide this November whether to keep the tax assessor position as an elected post or to switch to a system in which the tax assessor is a hired county worker.

A hired tax assessor would be like other hired department heads in Jackson County government. The assessor could be fired and would answer to the hired county administrator and the elected Jackson County commissioners.

County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to put the issue before voters Nov. 2. Voters will decide whether to change the county charter.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said she would like to see more elected positions in government, not fewer.

“Philosophically, I really support keeping them elected,” she said.

But Roberts said she wants to let voters decide the tax assessor issue.

Commissioners Rick Dyer and Dave Dotterrer said they also want to give voters a choice.

Under the management of current Jackson County Tax Assessor Dave Arrasmith, the tax assessor’s office has made a series of errors affecting thousands of tax accounts — causing frustration for taxpayers and an overwhelming workload for county workers who have to fix the errors.

In the latest mistake, Arrasmith didn’t notice his staff members were using the wrong form to pro-rate taxes for people whose property burned in the 2020 Almeda and South Obenchain fires. Collectively, fire survivors underpaid their property taxes by hundreds of thousands of dollars and now owe money.

“Voters should be allowed to weigh in and give their opinion because it does have dramatic effects on the lives of people in Jackson County ― as we’ve seen,” Dyer said.

If voters decide to make the tax assessor a hired worker, there will be no immediate change.

Arrasmith was reelected and sworn in for a four-year term 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.

Unless he resigns or is recalled, Arrasmith will serve out his four-year term. After his term ends, the county could begin the process of vetting and hiring a tax assessor, said Jackson County Counsel Joel King.

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker, who manages the county elections office, said her office has fielded a few phone calls from people asking about the process to recall the assessor. But she said no one has formally started the process.

Dyer said voters feel they have more control over an elected tax assessor, but the process to respond to and correct problems with an elected official is slower than when dealing with a hired worker.

Dyer said there are reasonable arguments on both sides of the issue.

Years ago, voters rejected county charter amendments that would have turned the elected tax assessor, county surveyor and county clerk posts into hired positions.

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said the county would add job requirements to the current minimum standards for the tax assessor if the job becomes a hired position. For example, county department heads must have experience managing people and budgets in order to get hired.

“Right now, there’s no management experience required to be the assessor,” Jordan said.

A person who wins the tax assessor post can take over a department with 33 workers despite having no experience managing people, budgets or human resources issues, Jordan said.

Arrasmith had experience working in the county tax assessor’s office before he was elected to lead the office.

During this spring’s county budget process, members of the Jackson County Budget Committee said they were worried Arrasmith didn’t present a budget plan for hiring more workers to deal with an expected increase in the tax assessor office’s workload. As homes and businesses are rebuilt in the aftermath of the 2020 fires, the value of those properties will have to be reassessed for property tax purposes.

Budget Committee members expressed those concerns about the workload on the tax assessor’s office before the error affecting fire survivors’ burned property was discovered.

Fixing that error is increasing the workload on the tax assessor’s office and other county departments, including the finance department.

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