Two candidates seeking County Assessor job
For the first time in at least 40 years, more than one person is running for Crook County Assessor.
Incumbent Brian Huber, who has held the office for the past five years, is challenged by Jon Soliz, who has worked in the office 11 years, two of them as the lead appraiser.
The two candidates are focusing on two different approaches in their respective campaigns and philosophies on how the office should conduct business. Huber is emphasizing his experience and adherence to policies that have earned special recognition. Soliz, meanwhile, is placing a premium on being business friendly and citizen centered.
"I have been with the Assessor's Office for 19 years. I started as an appraiser, spent 10 years as the chief appraiser and now five years as the Assessor," Huber said. "So I have an intimate knowledge of each position within the office. I could step in and do any job."
Huber went on to note that he has 15 years of budget and grant-writing experience as well as completing the tax roll, which he says is a huge function of the office each year.
"My opponent has no experience in any of those," Huber said, adding that the tax roll "is a major component of the job and there are always issues that pop up every year. It is good to have that knowledge and experience and know what to look for."
Soliz did not dispute Huber's experience on the job, but he countered that it's what an assessor does with the experience that matters.
"Are you going to hold it, keep it for yourself, for your own ego or is it something you are going to share with others?" Soliz said, adding that sharing that experience empowers not only the Assessor's Office staff members, but the taxpayers as well.
Regarding his emphasis on being citizen centered and business friendly, Soliz said it's his connection with people and willingness to collaborate with them that sets him apart from Huber.
"You can take our line of work and you can approach it with, 'This is what it is, too bad,' or you can approach it with, 'This is what it is, but I'd like you to understand, and I'd like to connect with you, and I'd like you to feel like a part of it, not necessarily subjected to it,'" Soliz explained.
The business friendly emphasis, meanwhile, was spurred in part by a recent decision to conduct personal property inspections for local businesses. Prior to that change, businesses had self-reported personal property for taxation purposes. Huber does not consider the change anything new or profound, but wanted to inspect business personal property the same way the office does for other residents.
"And actually, what we discovered with those inspections is people were reporting items they no longer have in a business," he said. "So it is actually benefitting most of the businesses."
While that is the case, the decision also drew criticism from some businesses and citizens. Consequently, Soliz would like to roll back that practice if elected.
"I felt that was an unnecessary move that our office needed to make," he said. "That is the discretion area that the assessor has."However, Huber disagrees that an assessor has such discretion. He points out that county assessors are required to follow the laws and administrative rules set forth by the state legislature.
"We don't really have a choice," he said. "We can't pick and choose which laws to follow. We can't decide to be business friendly and pit taxpayer against taxpayer. Once you start bringing wiggle room or being friendly to one group of the community, you are ultimately harming another group of the community. We should be equitable at all times. That is the main focus of the job."
Punctuating how well Huber and his staff have adhered to that focus, he pointed out that his office is the only one in Oregon to have won the Certificate of Excellence in Assessment Administration Award.
While Soliz said he would roll back the personal property inspections for businesses, he stressed that his emphasis on being business friendly "has nothing to do with favoritism."
"It all has to do with relationships," he said.
Despite all of their differences, one similarity Huber and Soliz share is their interest in making the Assessor's Office more accessible to taxpayers and the public. Soliz would like to "get out there and meet the people and attend some community functions" to reduce the typical disdain people typically have for tax assessors.
Huber, meanwhile, points out that he and his staff have improved public access to the office and tax assessment information with an upgraded website and creation and use of a new Facebook page.
The Crook County Assessor race will be decided in the primary election, which will take place on May 15.