For nearly a quarter of a century, voters have quietly re-elected incumbent Dale Hom to the Gila County assessor’s office.
With the change in the county’s fortunes, this quiet little office remains quiet no longer.
Hom will face a challenger in the general election. He runs unopposed in the primary.
Why the sudden interest in the assessor’s office?
The assessor’s office handles the following duties according to the Web site (http://www.gilacountyaz.gov/ government/assessor/index.php): it locates and identifies taxable property in Gila County. Values the property according to home sales in neighborhoods and property tax statues from the Department of Revenue. Maintains a list of property and notifies property owners of estimated values. And analyzes requests to revaluate property, then posting the results.
The assessor’s office will answer questions about properties based on parcel numbers and walk through a property tax bill to explain the values.
But as the real estate market has dropped, the assessor’s office has increasingly come under attack.
Last year, residents in the Christopher Creek - Kohl’s Ranch area held a public meeting with Supervisor Tommie Martin to figure out why their tax bill increased when their neighbors’ houses were selling at dirt-cheap prices. Surely, they felt, their property taxes would go down since values went down.
“I live in Mead Ranch,” said Sherry Duncan, “Only one home has sold in the last two years. It originally listed at $195,000 and sold for $74,000. None of our homes are worth the full cash value.”
Hom admits that the values of homes have fluctuated over the last three years. By statute, a property owner will not see a difference in the assessed value used for property tax purposes for three years, unless they appeal, said assessor’s office staff.
Those working in real estate disagree.
Realtor Cliff Potts recently wrote a letter to the editor explaining why he felt the assessor’s office political race has gained attention, “Our properties have not been properly assessed by the county assessor’s office in years,” he wrote.
Challengers in Real Estate
The two Republican candidates, Deborah Hughes and Nathan Morris agree with Potts.
Both work in the real estate world, Hughes as a Realtor and Morris as an appraiser.
Hughes said that she often feels frustrated with the assessor’s office because they don’t keep accurate records.
“I just found a property with a home that the assessor didn’t list on the property,” said Hughes.
She says the Web site frustrates her because of the lack of information. She believes the Web site should have assessment information on parcels available with every line explained.
“Other assessors’ offices are doing that,” she said.
As an appraiser for real estate, Morris intimately understands the values of property around Gila County.
“I’ve been to every corner of this county as an appraiser,” he said, “I concentrate on making sure the value is correct for the owner and the lender.”
In the last couple of years, he has dipped into helping with property tax evaluation appeals.
He’s found errors.
“Example: the square footage being wrong. If it’s too high then the value is too high and the owner is taxed too much,” said Morris.
He believes as Potts does that the assessor’s office lags behind in updating assessments.
“All the values... should be within the year,” said Morris, “They need to make sure their data is more accurate.”
Morris also believes the Gila County Assessor needs to put more information online, as other counties do.
“Check out Coconino County’s Web site,” said Morris, “All documents are available, everything we need (for the appraisal business) is online.”
Incumbent defends system
Hom said the economy has changed everything.
“Obviously for us and for America, it’s the economy,” he said, “The economy tells us how to value property – sales and sale prices.”
One property owner said when times were good and the values of homes kept going up and up, he appreciated the lag time in evaluating his property because he would have had to pay more taxes based on the increase value of his property.
Now, he said, local governments are raising property tax rates, while the value of the home remains high because readjusted assessments have not yet taken effect so he pays more in property taxes.
This scenario is what brought out the Christopher Creek/Kohl’s Ranch property owners last year.
It is also the reason Hughes and Morris seek to challenge Hom.
Hom said housing prices have stopped fluctuating so wildly in recent months.
“They seem to have some kind of rhyme or reason,” he said, “They’ve leveled off.”
Hom said the voters have trusted him for six terms. He believes he has done a good job for Gila County and he trusts his staff.
“I think we’ve done a good job in the office,” he said, “I’m pretty proud of our employees for their care and understanding of the public.”