CLAY COUNTY — Three candidates in the Aug. 4 primary election vie to be the Republican to compete against Democrat Bruce Cantwell on the November ballot for elected office of county assessor.
Each candidate was asked county-specific questions ahead of the August vote. Answers were limited to 50 words each for fairness, and answers exceeding that limit were cut off at the end of the closest sentence with a ellipsis (...).
Candidates facing off in the Republican primary are Tracy Baldwin, Bill Keefer and Chris Lonsdale. Questions were also submitted to unopposed Democratic primary candidate Bruce Cantwell, who will automatically proceed to the general election. Answers are printed in alphabetical order by Republican candidate last name. Cantwell’s answers follow those of the contested race.
Please explain your understanding of the duties of a county assessor.
Baldwin: “I have worked in the assessor’s office since April 2009 and spent the last three years as the deputy assessor. It has given me the unique chance to learn the many responsibilities of the assessor. I have also had the chance to take notes and learn how to hit the ground running on day one.”
Keefer: “Provide property tax values, good customer service and reporting.”
Lonsdale: “The assessor is responsible for evaluating all taxable property for the various taxing jurisdictions (school districts, fire districts and every district that has a levy rate).”
Cantwell: “To assess real estate and personal property that is within the county.”
What do you see as the biggest challenge specific to the assessor’s office in the next few years and how, if elected, would you work to resolve it?
Baldwin: “It has been and always will be to be as accurate and fair as possible with property values. With the issues we have seen in some other counties, it is vital that the assessor does what is required, understand the data and use it properly.”
Keefer: “Correct and fair assessments, especially with all the news the past few years. And, when issues arise, deal with them promptly while providing great customer service.”
Lonsdale: “The No. 1 issue is getting the massive assessment increases under control. I’ve talked to many homeowners and small business owners and there is real frustration in how they have been assessed. The assessor’s office is making it harder for people to live and do business here and that is absolutely unacceptable.”
Cantwell: “Technology. We all know that technology is changing every day and I would like to look into making things easy for the citizens to navigate the county assessor homepage.”
Do you think the assessor’s office provides enough information to the public about the assessor’s office and how property assessments are conducted?
Baldwin: “No. From my experience, most of the issues in the office are lack of information on the statutory obligations of the assessor. I would like to continue to improve on the online services, mailings and hold some kind of town hall information meetings.”
Keefer: “No. The office should provide a brochure or social media to the public on how values are calculated.”
Lonsdale: “No, I don’t think the office is doing enough. Currently, I’m the only candidate that will put the assessor’s office on the countywide transparency portal. The office should also be more involved in explaining how (tax increment financing) and levy rate increases affect people’s property tax bills.”
Cantwell: “I do not believe so. I say this as I feel I do not know how property is assessed according to the county. I believe that citizens should be aware of the way property is assessed. I think the basic understanding of what the assessor’s office does could be a benefit for citizens to have knowledge of as well.”
Do you believe the assessor’s office has adequate resources, including staff, to perform the responsibilities of the office? If not, what would you advocate to change, if elected?
Baldwin: “No. Clay County has total assessed value of close to $5 billion, which is fifth out of all counties in the state. Also, it is the fourth fastest-growing county. With the growth also comes more responsibility with legal staff, software, online services and TIF projects. To help resolve issues, I would try to advocate for new funding mechanisms. …”
Lonsdale: “Yes, I believe we do. The assessor’s office has a $4 million reassessment fund to draw from every year. The office is also one of the largest county departments. We have plenty of resources. We need to focus on improving efficiency and optimizing the reassessment process before we ask for more money.”
Cantwell: “If elected, I would be better to assess the answer to this question. I know that the county is growing and as it grows, the production of the office will grow as well so I believe that the assessor’s office will need more adequate resources.”