With a swooning real estate market and rising property tax rates, Gila County Assessor Don Hom faces one of the few election challenges in his 24-year reign.
Hom once again faces no opposition in the Democratic primary, but two challengers are vying for the Republican nomination. Nathan Morris and Deborah Hughes are both running on platforms that call for speeding up and modernizing the assessment process.
The race pits a Globe incumbent against one of two northern Gila County challengers, raising additional issues about the allocation of county resources. The bulk of the land sales and assessed value in the county remain in northern Gila County, but almost all of the assessor’s office staff is based in Globe.
Typically a quiet, behind-the-scenes office, as the economy has soured, citizens have offered a barrage of suggestions for revamping a system that takes longer than people prefer to update.
The assessor’s office determines the value of taxable property within Gila County. The assessor determines the impact on the taxable value of a home of every new garage, new paving or room addition, plus constantly update the value of every home in the county as a result of property sales in the neighborhood.
However, the value an owner can receive from the sale of his property is sometimes much different than the assessed value for property taxes, creating a perfect recipe for conflict.
Last year, a perfect storm resulted in a significant increase in property taxes for many Gila County properties, despite falling property values.
The statewide decline in property values spurred a significant increase in the tax rates for schools, causing property owners to question how the assessor’s office works.
Nathan Morris, a Republican, currently works in the private sector to assess the value of homes for sale. His business has evolved into aiding people protest the assessed tax value.
“In the last couple of years, I’ve dipped into doing property tax consultations,” said Morris, “I’ve helped — the assessor’s office lags behind.”
Morris was born and raised in Payson, graduating from Payson High in 1997. He left to go to college in Phoenix, but after a brief stint in Denver after he graduated, he returned to the Rim Country with his wife to get into real estate.
“I’ve been to every corner of this county as an appraiser,” he said, “I understand the difference between a lot in Young and a lot in Payson. I’ve also appraised commercial property.”
Morris will face off with Deborah Hughes in the Republican primary.
Hughes has worked in real estate in the Rim Country for the last 17 years.
“Over the years, I’ve noticed discrepancies in the assessor’s office and I decided it was time for a change,” she said to explain why she decided to run for the assessor’s position.
Prior to settling on selling real estate, Hughes ran her own business for 12 years in Rim Country doing residential and home cleaning. She started her working career as a manager for Motorola.
While working in the Valley, she decided she wanted to live in the Rim Country, so moved to Payson in 1991.
She has four children and her husband currently serves as vice-mayor of Payson.
As Hughes has done more research to campaign, she said she has found more and more evidence of problems with the assessor’s office.
“The more I’ve been campaigning, the more passionate I’ve become,” she said, “I feel God has been giving me these gifts and showing me the way. I’m supposed to do this.”
When times are good, voters generally don’t think of the assessor’s office and Hom has run unopposed for his six terms.
But times have changed.
As the only Democrat, Dale Hom, the incumbent runs unopposed in the primary.
Hom has served as the Gila County assessor for almost a quarter of a century. Some of his staff have worked under his administration for more than 20 years.
“I’m pretty proud of our employees,” said Hom, “for their care and understanding of the public.”
Hom launched his career in the assessor’s office by rising through the ranks. When he started, the assessor’s office also functioned as the department of motor vehicles, until that responsibility moved to the state.
Hom was born in Tucson, but moved to Gila County when he was young. He went through the school system and has seen how the county has changed.
“I’ve seen what the county has been and what it is now,” said Hom.