Upset: Payson Realtor Unseats Assessor

Deborah Hughes

Deborah Hughes

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Incumbent assessor Dale Hom lost his first election in 24 years on Tuesday night to Payson realtor Deborah Hughes.

“The Gila County voters spoke on how they want things,” said Hom. “All I can do is wish Deborah Hughes the best of luck in her new career.”

Throughout the campaign, Hughes faulted the assessor’s office for maintaining incomplete and late information on properties.

“Over the years, I’ve noticed discrepancies in the assessor’s office and I decided it was time for a change,” said Hughes.

She said she would take a client to see a property that the assessor’s office said had no buildings, only to find a house.

Like Hughes, the voters also decided it was time for a change. At the end of Tuesday night, 1,466 votes lay between Hom and Hughes.

The economy could have played a big role in the outcome.

As the economy tanked, residents watched the market value of their homes plunge. However, their property tax bills often rose.

Government officials have worked to explain the discrepancy, but the statutes governing the assessment process include a confusing array of delays and methods for assessing property for tax purposes.

Take for example the story of Gerald Rutz, who decided to spend his retirement years investing in tax liens.

When Arizona’s housing market was booming, buying tax liens was a pretty good deal. Investors would purchase past-due property tax bills assuming they would either recoup their investment when the property owner paid their past due taxes or end up owning the property.

Rutz bought tax liens on several view lots near Strawberry, with an assessed value of $700,000. But then county officials concluded the hillside lots were too steep to accommodate a road and placed a moratorium on building permits. As housing market collapsed, the value of Rutz’s lots dropped to $11,000. However, he had paid $30,000 in back taxes.

The assessor’s office said the market controls the retail value of the property, but the voters did not understand that. In fact, Supervisor Tommie Martin attempted to soothe her angry constituents in Christopher Creek when they saw their property taxes increasing while neighbors sold houses for thousands less than they had paid.

All this frustration spilled over into the voting booth.

Hughes has always felt God led her to run for this office. Throughout the campaign, she said she found more and more discrepancies and room for improvement.

“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.”

Hughes carried Northern Gila County from the Sierra Ancha and Roosevelt precincts to the Pine-Strawberry precincts.

Hom carried the south.

Hughes wrote to the voters of Gila County, “Thank you for your confidence, support and vote!! II Timothy 4:7.”

Hom said he will miss the familiar faces and coming to the office he has worked in for a quarter of a century. Saying the past 24 years were the best in his life, Hom will now search for what to do. But taking a vacation might be a good start, he said.

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