Don Ascoli decided to run for Gila County Treasurer after sitting in a Board of Supervisor’s meeting in 2011 as the supervisors voted on the tax rates for the year.
“Even though the (property) tax rates went down, the school district raised the rates,” he said to explain his decision to run in the Republican primary for a chance to challenge long-time incumbent Democrat Deborah Savage in the November general election.
He listened as the supervisors predicted the public would be in an uproar because their assessed values went down, while their tax bill increased by 20 percent.
And he knew he was part of the public that would see his tax bill increase.
An hour after the supervisors’ meeting, Ascoli sat in then Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O’Brien’s office, grilling him and the business manager, Kathie Manning, on why the rate had jumped so much.
They explained to him that the increase stemmed from an error in calculation at the district level plus a drop in assessed values statewide that affected the state school tax rate.
Ascoli realized after the two meetings that his tax bill did not give him enough information.
“People don’t understand their tax bill,” he said, “It’s a combination of taxing authorities.”
Putting tax bills online
Ascoli would like to see the treasurer’s office take tax bills online. Each line item that correlates with a taxing authority would have a link explaining who the taxing authority is, how it decided the amount to tax, and contact information.
“I want to have people understand their tax bill,” said Ascoli.
He feels the treasurer’s office does not have enough of a public presence. He would like to put an education program together and hold public meetings in communities across the county to explain tax bills and the purpose of the treasurer’s office.
Ascoli would work with the taxing districts to tell the public where their tax dollars go.
“I want to be in front of the people paying taxes,” said Ascoli, “I’m going to put a pair of fresh eyes on the office.”
As an engineer, he would like to put his technology capabilities to work to connect the recorder’s and assessor’s offices with the treasurer’s office.
And he would like to open a satellite office in Northern Gila County, since the treasurer’s office is the only office that has no presence in the northern part of the county.
Ascoli and Savage will not face off until the general election. Ascoli is running as a Republican and Savage is a Democrat.
Incumbent defends performance
Savage believes that the economy has made people tired of how things are run in government, but she said the treasurer’s office has little wiggle room for innovation.
“We are the bank for the county,” she said, “Our duties are laid out by statute. I don’t see how a person can walk in the door and re-do everything.”
Savage, who has been in the office for 20 years, knows the ins and outs of the treasurer’s duties. Her office takes the time to research “downwinders,” those who suffered physical disease due to the nuclear tests done in New Mexico or agent orange tests on Pinal Mountain, because they are eligible for tax write-off benefits.
And Savage loves to help the public. She just wishes more of them would call to receive help it they need it on their tax bills.
“We will create a payment plan,” she said, “We want to keep homeowners on their property.”
Savage does agree that the office should offer more services online, but that takes time in the world of county politics.
“My general ledger system just got changed (and) we have budgeted for a new tax system,” she said, “The one we use now is currently owned by Navajo County.”