By Beth Dodd:
There seemed to be no love lost between incumbent Betty Clark-Wine and hopeful Violet Watt at the Teller County Assessors debate on May 28.
Both ladies did not hesitate to stand up for themselves or to point out errors that they thought the other had made, although they did agree that the assessor?s office should do its job well and treat local property owners fairly.
A wide array of subjects was covered during the 90 minute session which played out before a full house at the Woodland Park City Council Chambers.
Clark-Wine, who is seeking a second four year term as assessor, had a negative take on the Woodland Park DDA when she was asked if properties in the DDA area were treated differently when it came to assessment values. Clark-Wine says that she is not a fan of DDAs in general. DDAs are usually a vehicle to restore blighted areas. They get their biggest bang from new construction, and can bleed revenue from the local fire department and others. Her work with the Woodland Park DDA mostly involved establishing boundaries.
In response to the same question, Watt, a former employee of the assessor?s office, said that the business of the DDA is not affected by the assessor. The people have power over the DDA if they like or dislike what it is doing. There have been more sales of commercial properties inside the Woodland DDA boundaries than elsewhere in the county, mostly office and retail space, and the property values there have been assessed fairly because there is a good basis for comparison.
Watt was questioned about statements she has made on her campaign website that property owners have been denied access to public information about their properties. Watt says that she witnessed a man being told he could not find out the value of his buildings and improvements compared with the value of his land. Clark-Wine responded that these things are usually not valued separately, but are considered as a unit. Otherwise people will try to appeal the values of their improvements or their land separately. She denied that any member of the public has been denied access to information that was not private. Watt questioned if, as government representatives, they were getting in people?s way or providing a service.
In one of the most contentious moments of the debate, Watt was accused of improperly assessing the value of her own home, with the implication being that she had dropped its value herself and then failed to appeal its undervalue in order to pay lower taxes. Watt said that her home lies within an area that she was assigned to assess and that the appropriate oversight was in place. Clark-Wine said that Watt was in a position of trust to do her job appropriately, and that she, along with other staffers, had appealed their own home values as being too low while Watt opted not to. Clark-Wine contends that Watt?s home value was not determined fairly. Watt insisted that her home is small, in fair condition, and with nearby foreclosures, and that her home value was in fact fairly determined.
Watt and Clark-Wine also wrangled over statistics. Clark-Wine stated that she had reduced the salary and staffing budget of the assessor?s office through attrition rather than lay-offs. She said that the budget was down $110,000 from 2013. Watt disagreed. She said that the 2012 budget was $806,000 and the 2014 budget was $861,000 was is a budget increase, not a decrease. She also claims that Clark-Wine?s failure to hire enough people to do the job resulted in hardships for the staff rather than savings.
Another disagreement sprang up over Watt?s contention that 20% of assessments in 2013 had mistakes, a statement she has made repeatedly on her website and in public discussions. Clark-Wine claims that she checked the numbers and Watt is wrong. Clark-Wine says the number of property values being appealed each year has steadily declined since she took office in 2010.
When asked what the most important function of the assessor?s office is, Watt responded that it is to ensure the public?s trust that property values are accurate and correct. Clark-Wine reinforced that fair values are key. She also emphasized the importance of listening to people while treating them with compassion and respect.
The Teller County Republication Primary is being conducted by mail. Ballots will be sent out on June 2. They must be received back before Election Day on June 24