I intend to continue my work as the duly elected County Assessor. I signed on to serve the citizens of Grays Harbor to the best of my ability. I am working hard to give them the effective and efficient office they deserve and have every right to expect.
We are late for the second year in a row with valuation notices. There are many reasons, but the primary one, I believe, is that I made the decision to pursue a work plan for this year that was incapable of delivering the intended due date. The appraisers warned me about the problems with the plan and I decided to proceed, believing that we would have new tools in place in time to finish in a timely manner. I was wrong and I will work closely with the appraisers and make the necessary adjustment to this year’s work plan.
All the elected officials of the county, especially the commissioners, continually work hard to make decisions to address the persistent financial difficulties facing our county. I have worked very diligently to support the commissioners even when that support threatened the ability to effectively perform my role. At the commissioners’ request I implemented furloughs for my understaffed office. I accepted budget reductions that impeded my ability to rehire skilled appraisers. I understood the decision of the commissioners to renege on the budget item that would have filled the programmer position in the Central Services department. My purpose remains unrelenting, to put people, tools and business processes in place that effectively and efficiently transform my department from one that does independent valuations on a cyclical basis to statistically generated team-based valuations on an annual basis.
Commissioner Wes Cormier and I find ourselves in a philosophical stalemate over the necessary steps to improve the assessment system. Our system is well suited for the task of implementing necessary improvements in the assessment process. With a few additional enhancements it will excel at supporting our needs for annual revaluation. One reason I chose this approach is due to the turmoil in the appraisal software industry caused by recent company consolidations.
In the last year, Tru-Automation and Terra-Scan have both been purchased by bigger firms. Assessors owning or moving to the programs are concerned that their annual maintenance fees will continue to escalate. They are left wondering whether their current versions of software will even be supported. The Assessor/Treasure software systems are highly integrated and a move by the Assessor might precipitate a change in the other department, which would also increase their fees. I believe that it better serves the taxpayer to support local programmers and Washington state vendors rather than relying on out of state third party vendors.
The decision to use our own software system came after a thorough process of analysis. I visited other counties independently and with my staff. I tested the software used by those counties by looking at the number of screens and “clicks” it took the staff to complete the process of entering data necessary to completing their task. I listened to other Assessors and their negative experiences in working with vendors who “promised but did not deliver on software programs.” While the process took a long time, it became clear to me that the wisest choice was to move forward in developing in-house software. The past set of commissioners supported that decision when it became time to move forward or pull back. The current commissioners reaffirmed that decision by voting early this year to approve $150,000 for grant reimbursements. I informed them at that time I would come back later for the additional $125,000 of funding for my estimate of $275,000 for the job. I am disappointed that critics expect a completed project before providing the necessary funding to complete the task.
Commissioner Gordon criticizes my management ability. He has ignored my repeated requests to meet for the last month. I am disappointed that he made his concerns public before meeting with me directly. The commissioner, rather than seeking dialogue, instead served me with a public records request. Fulfilling this request has taken valuable staff time that could have been more productively used to set final values, send valuation notices and provide desperately needed assessment information to cities, school districts and other taxing authorities.
It has been reported that the Chief Programmer Ron Malizia does not feel we can be successful. When I discussed this with Ron recently we agreed that our progress has been slower than anticipated. This is due in part to the learning curve caused by integrating new software into our current systems. We are not building an entirely new system. We are enhancing the system that allows us to perform global updates based on our statistical analysis. Over the last three years Ron has programmed tools such as the Commercial, Effective Age and Sales History applications that showcase the potential of our programming environment. The current programmers have implemented an Improvement Quality checklist, a Land Update tool and are currently programming a global update tool for improvements. When the new tools are fully functional we will have a system that rivals the functionality of systems in use by many counties today. We will own the code to our system and will not be saddled with ongoing maintenance costs that would likely continue to escalate. Providing the funding to complete our system with the state grant will allow us to finish the work we have begun and have an Assessor / Treasurer program of which we can all be proud.
I am committed to serving my community and providing my department and the citizens of Grays Harbor with the most efficient and effective tools possible. Thank you for your continued support.
Rick Hole is the Grays Harbor County Assessor.