Assessor’s budget cut by $16,000

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The county assessor’s 2017 budget was cut by $16,000 in a majority vote by the Washington County Council.

The vote, held during the council’s meeting on Monday, Oct. 3, came after Assessor Jason Cockerill fielded questions about his budget for office and maintenance supplies.

Councilman David Hoar expressed concerns about the assessor’s budget during the council’s September meeting. Hoar said the budgeted amounts for office and maintenance supplies had “gotten out of hand.” Since Cockerill wasn’t at that meeting, further discussion was delayed.

On Oct. 3, Hoar asked Cockerill how he had determined the amounts he needed for his office’s 2017 budget.

State law requires that every property be reassessed at least every four years. The county is currently in a four-year reassessment cycle that began in 2014. Although many counties outsource their entire reassessment process, Cockerill said his office completes as many reassessments in house as is practical; however, there is still certain work that must be handled by an outside vendor. That work includes rate studies, which require a statistician – and Cockerill’s office doesn’t employ a statistician. Also, he added a vendor’s assistance is important when working with large commercial developments since the county has no local comparable real estate transactions to use to help develop the value of those properties.

The county took bids for this outside contract work and it was awarded to the low bidder, Tyler Technologies. Cockerill said as part of the contract with an outside vendor, the county is obligated to provide office space and office supplies. Tyler Technologies sent a letter to Cockerill’s office requesting $22,500 for office supplies including computer equipment, a printer, a copier and computer tablets for use in the field. Based on that estimate Tyler provided, Cockerill said he requested a budget of $22,000. He told council members he thought it would be better to include appropriations for the expected costs in the budget so the county is prepared for those inevitable bills.

Cockerill said the vendor is expected to spend more time in Salem due to the development along State Road 56 East. That large development, including Wal-Mart, a gas station – and whatever other businesses may be constructed there – will consume the vendor’s time.

Councilman Todd Ewen said he had reviewed the assessor’s office budget line-by-line and found nothing wrong with it.

Hoar made a motion to cut the budget back to the 2015 level.

Council President Jonathan Spaulding said he agreed with Hoar that the council needs to keep the budget lean; however, since the assessor’s office has been told to anticipate these costs the point is moot.

Hoar’s motion failed for lack of a second.

Spaulding then suggested they could cut reassessment budget for office supplies to $12,500.

Hoar suggested Cockerill detail the vendor’s cost in future budgets as opposed to simply including it in the office supply and maintenance line items. Cockerill said he can detail those costs and that he had simply been following the same process that has been used in the assessor’s office.

The council discussed what the point was of cutting the budget if the county is going to have to pay for the costs anyway. Spaulding said all they will get from it is more paperwork later when the bills come in.

“I don’t like it,” Hoar said of the reassessment costs. “I think it’s a flawed system.”

Hoar made a motion to cut $16,000 from the reassessment budget, reducing the line items for office supplies, maintenance supplies and legal services. Ben Bowling seconded the motion.

Hoar said the council is obligated to review budgets and other departments have been held accountable for their costs.

Ewen said he believes the council may be micromanaging departments and questioning the trustworthiness of department heads.

The cuts were approved by a majority. It was opposed by Ewen and Frank Nobles.

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