1. What are the most important issues or challenges that will face the Assessor’s office this year and in the foreseeable future?
Davis: The Assessor’s Office faces the following challenges:
1. The Assessor’s Office is under staffed. The Recession caused nearly a 50% cut in Staff, from 19 to 11 full-time people; we are now up to 14, but this is still too low to fully meet current needs or address the backlog.
2. With the reduction in Staff and normal turn-over, new Staff faces a steep learning curve and an increasing workload makes training a critical priority.
3. As always, there are people who do not believe that the rules should apply to them, and they seek special favors. But while I’m Assessor, everyone will be treated equally, fairly, and with courtesy and professionalism.
Muetterties: Clearing out the existing backlog of unprocessed transfers so that the Supplemental Tax Bills can be invoiced and collected. The backlog has been in existence since 2011/2012 (documented in BOS Minutes) and the Butte Fire exacerbated the situation. Finding ways to improve efficiencies with current staffing levels if budget does not allow for increase in staff. It is critical we process the ‘unsecured rolls’ as those monies (over 1 million dollars) go to our Schools, Fire Departments, Sheriff’s Department, and Special Districts. The Department must not fall behind in the process as values are increasing and the revenue is critical to our County.
2. How would you address those challenges or issues if you are elected in 2018?
Davis: I have requested additional staffing in my 2018-19 budget proposal. Because of the difficulty recruiting advanced level appraisers, I have also asked that the county review the salary schedule for positions in the Assessor’s office and increase those salaries so we can attract and keep experienced appraisers. These are not unusual problems in Calaveras County. The Sheriff has been experiencing similar issues.
I will also continue our intense training program to bring current appraisal staff’s expertise in line with the need to appraise complex properties.
To help pay for these solutions I’ve proposed that the Board of Supervisors agree to match state funds that the Governor has included in his budget proposal. That will allow me to compete for those funds and help the county cover the cost of hiring new staff.
Muetterties: Once in the position I will be able to better evaluate the challenges and obstacles along with staff input and then implement the needed fixes. I have no issue working long hours alongside staff to ensure the department’s success. These are some of the management skills I will bring to the table. I will work to ensure the work within the Assessor’s Office will be completed in a timely manner and to prevent future backlogs and loss of critical revenue.
3. Do you believe the Assessor’s office currently has sufficient staff and other resources to best perform the functions of Assessor for the County, its citizens and property owners? If not, what additional staff or other resources do you think are necessary to attain that goal?
Davis: As previously noted, the Assessor’s Office currently does not have sufficient staff to complete state mandated work. Although it does not take us to previous staffing levels, the Assessor’s Office would benefit most from the addition of two advanced Appraisers and one Assessment Analyst.
Muetterties: No. There were three appraisal positions funded that were vacant for quite some time and have been recently filled which is positive for the department. More resources should have been brought to bear on filling these positions sooner. The positions were filled with entry level staff which does not mitigate or spread out the workload in appraisals. Until I am in the position and can properly evaluate staffing, workload, etc. it would be irresponsible to make suggested changes without any basis or justification.
4. The last two Grand Jury Reports raised questions about the relationship between the Board of Supervisors and the Assessor’s office. Do you believe that those questions were justified, and if so, what has been done, or should be done to address them?
Davis: With all due respect, the question contains an assumption that is not the case. The last Grand Jury Report to review the Assessor’s Office was in 2016-17. While looking at the Assessor’s Office, it found a general lack of communication and collaboration among the County’s administrative leadership both elective and appointed. You would have to go back five more years, to the 2011-12 Report to discover anything related to the Assessor’s Office. In that report, the Grand Jury recommended the Board of Supervisors provide funding to the Assessor’s office to staff all revenue generating functions, a recommendation I heartily supported. I believe both of those Grand Jury Reports were justified. Last summer, the Board held a retreat with department heads, both elective and appointed, to begin collaborating on issues relating to County operations and the budget. I believe progress has been made and I’m hopeful that more progress will be made this year.
Muetterties: The questions and findings were accurate and acknowledged by the then Board of Supervisors in their response. Had the CAO and Supervisors not intervened, the loss would have been approximately 1.2 million dollars that were intended for our Schools, Fire Departments, Sheriff’s Department, and Special Districts. I do not believe anything has changed. It is my intent to bring a new era of cooperation to the Assessor’s Office leadership to eliminate the current reputation of working in a Silo and foster an attitude of cooperation with all departments and the taxpayers. It is unfortunate that the current Assessor has yet again threatened the Board of Supervisors with not completing the Unsecured Rolls on June 14, 2017 when they attempted to alter her budget allocation.
5. How would you as Assessor find the proper balance between treating all taxpayers fairly and raising as much revenue as legally possible from real estate taxes?
Davis: The issue really boils down to State law, which establishes what the Assessor’s Office does, and for the most part, how we do it. The law provides protection to the taxpaying public, I answer to that public, and I obey the law. It’s really that simple. This way, all taxpayers are treated fairly and equitably. When the economy declined during the Recession, the Assessor’s Office focused on helping individual homeowners by re-assessing those properties. This affected county revenues, and the Assessor’s Office was once again criticized by some in County government. But helping taxpaying homeowners try and hang onto their homes was in the best interests of both the County and the taxpayers and is consistent with State law.
Muetterties: I have successfully ‘balanced’ my fiduciary, legal, moral, and ethical obligations to my clients while also complying with the law for 40 years. I will continue to do so in this position by ensuring that all taxpayers are treated equally and fairly. I am a strong supporter of Proposition 13 and will follow the letter of the law as well as the intent. Completing the unsecured tax rolls, completing the assessment on new transfers, and evaluating existing assessments where the 2% increase is justified under Prop. 13. Removing the backlog and staying current on all assessments will generate the appropriate revenue per state law.
6. What do you believe is the most important quality, talent or experience you will bring to the job if elected Assessor, and why is that quality, talent or experience important?
Davis: Without question, the most important quality for an Assessor to have is experience. The job of County Assessor is complex and extremely detail oriented. When I was elected Calaveras County Assessor in 2010 I had already spent two years as Acting Assessor and had 10 years working in the Assessor’s Office. Besides thoroughly knowing all legal requirements and the actual processes required to produce the assessment roll, the Assessor also needs to:
· Understand government operations, which includes budgeting and relationships between departments.
· Understand the Constitution and various state laws and regulations that direct the Assessor’s operations.
· Be able to manage people to achieve a common goal.
· Understand that everyone in the office needs to serve the best interest of the public.
· Be free from conflicts of interest and work to ensure that staff is protected from undue influence.
Muetterties: In addition to 40 years of experience in valuing properties in Calaveras County, I also currently serve on the Calaveras County Assessment Appeals Board where we hear and decide disputes between taxpayers and the current Assessor. I will bring integrity, ethics, fairness, coalition building, dedication, hard work, and problem-solving experience to the position. The current lack of cooperation and work environment within the department are counterproductive to the department’s success and impacts other departments. This will be one of my immediate goals along with the immediate removal of the backlogof transfers and the timely processing of Supplemental Tax Bills and assessments.
7. How would you describe the ideal relationship between the Board of Supervisors and the Assessor? How does that differ from the current relationship?
Davis: An ideal relationship between the Board and the Assessor begins with respect for, and an understanding of, our respective roles. As an elected constitutional officer the Assessor does not answer to the Board of Supervisors, but the Board does influence what can be accomplished by their budget decisions. I believe the majority of the Board understands that.
In a perfect world, the ideal relationship would be where the Board of Supervisors has ample funds to provide every County Department their full budget request, and every Department is run in a totally efficient, friendly, and transparent manner.
We are not there yet, but I truly believe that the vast majority of County Government employees, both elected and non-elected, are working hard to get closer to that goal.
Muetterties: The ideal relationship with the Board of Supervisors would be one in that all ‘parties’ are respectful to each other and cognizant of the financial challenges facing everyone, while also offering options. As the Assessor I will NOT stand before the Board of Supervisors and threaten them with financial harm (not doing the unsecured rolls) if they are forced to make budgetary adjustments.
8. Did the recent Recession or the Butte Fire make the job of Assessor more difficult? If so, why and in what ways, and how would you deal with similar situations in the future based upon that experience?
Davis: The impacts of the recession and Butte Fire did not make the job inherently or technically more difficult, but it had very personal impacts on everyone, including everyone in the Assessor’s Office. Obviously, it added significant workload to an already understaffed department. But, we learned some valuable lessons that would help us in the future. As a result of those experiences:
· I will ask OES and/or CalFire to include the Assessor in disaster aftermath review to ensure accuracy in damage reports.
· Similar to regional fire departments, I am working to develop and enter into a Mutual Aid Agreement among county assessors, so we can help one another cope with future disasters.
· I have asked our software vendor to improve their program so roll corrections for calamity reassessments can be worked more efficiently.
· I chair a subcommittee of the California Assessors’ Association regarding Calamity Reassessments and will be moderating a panel discussion on “Lessons Learned” at our next Conference.
I hope we never face the same level of economic decline or such terrible damage in a future disaster. But if we do, I know everyone will once again come together and pull our County back up again.
Muetterties: The Recession had a very negative impact on our County and its Communities that also resulted in large budget cuts. It also exacerbated the already substantial existing backlog within the Assessor’s Office that has been in existence since 2011/2012. The Board of Supervisors acknowledged during budget hearings that all departments had cutbacks, and all were able to manage their workloads except for the Assessor. I know for certain that the Butte Fire had a major impact on staff and work load that I observed while working the Evacuation Center (CLAC) for 6 weeks. I also witnessed many County staff working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day assisting Butte Fire Victims.The destruction or damage of each property had to be inspected and verified before making changes to the rolls. While I hope and pray we don’t see another Butte Fire, unlike the current Assessor I would not refuse staffing help from the Board of Equalization in a post wildland fire scenario, or in any declaration of emergency in the county.
9. How important is it for the Assessor to provide the public with sufficient information to understand and keep up to date on the work of the Assessor? What are the best ways to do that?
Davis: I think that it’s important for the public to trust the Assessor to know what needs to be done and when. There are many aspects to the production of an assessment roll and there are many laws that must be followed.
To keep the public informed, we have used Press Releases, Facebook posts, and Town Halls to interact with the public and answer questions. Last year, I attended six Town Halls at the invitation of Supervisors Garamendi, Clapp, and Tofanelli, and I enjoyed answering many interesting questions.
I also regularly attend community events throughout the County and people who come up to me often start their question with: “I hate to bother you but,…” It is truly no bother and it’s one of the key reasons why elected officials need to be out and about in our County. Elected officials need to available, because answering questions in person and understanding what is on people’s minds is how our government works best.
Muetterties: As Assessor, I will be reaching out to those taxpayers that currently have disputes over their assessment to resolve the situation rather than have them wait for multiple years for an appeal date. Keeping the public educated and up to date is critical in maintaining a positive relationship between local government and taxpayers/constituents. This can be accomplished with press releases, email releases, speaking engagements, interviews, personal meetings, workshops, and social media. Lastly, there are programs designed to assist senior and disabled taxpayers available in the state, but the program information is not easily found. That’s why I am supporting AB 2458 (Webber) making it easier for seniors and disabled to locate and apply for the assistance that is available to them.
10. What useful public information gathered by the Assessor’s office is currently made available to the public, and what additional information could be made available to the public without excessive costs?
Davis: Providing information from the Assessor’s Office to the public is a balancing act between the public’s right to know about government operations and a property owner’s right to privacy.
Most of the information the Assessor’s Office provides to the public is without charge to the public. The public may come into the office and research ownership and review assessment maps. They can see the values of property for the current tax bill. Unfortunately, State law limits the availability of all information on the internet. And, I think we all can agree that Social Security Numbers should not be public.
At this point we are providing all information that we can legally provide to property owners. I am working with our software vendor to put as much information on our website as is appropriate and in keeping with privacy concerns.
Muetterties: What is missing or not readily discoverable is the information and applications for the senior and disabled relief programs. The information currently available from the Calaveras County Assessor’s Office available to the public includes the following; General Information, Physical Address, Assessor Parcel Number, Land Value, Improvement Value, Total Assessed Value, uncertified Tax Map, and Tax Payments. It also includes information on Bonds for Schools, Colleges, CCWD, Special Districts, Fire Departments, and Solid Waste fee. Much of the data complied by the Assessor’s Office is considered confidential.
11. Do you believe races for the Assessor’s office should be non-partisan, or should candidates seek and accept endorsements from political parties? Why or why not?
Davis: The Office of County Assessor is non-partisan by State law, and it should be. Partisan considerations have no place in the workings of the Assessor’s Office. All voters have the right to fair, honest, and independent work from the Assessor’s Office and, frankly, from all Departments of County Government, both elected and non-elected. County central committees will make their own decisions about who or how they endorse local candidates, but partisan endorsements must never influence a County elected official in the performance of their job I’m available to talk to any group who wants to discuss issues related to the assessment of property in Calaveras County, but no endorsement will have any bearing on how I do my job.
Muetterties: The Assessor’s race should not be party or partisan based. The responsibilities of the position are clear and set in law and ‘party’ should play no role in the way values are determined.
12. Have you received any 2018 campaign donations or loans from any persons or organizations that do not reside or have their principal place of business in Calaveras? If so, what are the total amounts and sources of those donations or loans? What assurances can you give the voters that those who have loaned or donated campaign funds will not receive special treatment as a result?
Davis: I have not received or requested any 2018 campaign donations or loans from anyone outside of Calaveras County. To date, my campaign has been entirely self-funded. All taxpayers must be treated equally. It does not matter if they have contributed to my campaign or my opponent’s, whether they own one property or several, or if political pressure is applied for someone to receive special treatment. In today’s Calaveras County Assessor’s Office, all taxpayers are treated equally and fairly. If I am re-elected, this will not change.
Muetterties: Yes. I have received donations (no loans) from nine individuals outside of Calaveras County in the aggregate amount of $2,100.00. These individuals are friends, and many are fellow state directors that I served with for many years at the California Association of Realtors. The donations were based on long term friendships and do not have ownership ties to Calaveras County. The only way to ensure fairness is for everyone to be treated the same regardless of donations or relationships. I have also received the endorsement of SEIU Local 1021, and the Calaveras County Association of Realtors. It has been said that these organizations are ‘special interest’. I would say their ‘special interest’ is to see improvements for staff and citizens alike in Calaveras County.