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Property assessments could be key in county race

  • Cindy Portmann and Chris Vallo
Snohomish County Assessor race

    Cindy Portmann and Chris Vallo Snohomish County Assessor race

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
  • Cindy Portmann and Chris Vallo
Snohomish County Assessor race

    Cindy Portmann and Chris Vallo Snohomish County Assessor race

EVERETT -- Snohomish County Assessor Cindy Portmann took more than half of the votes cast in August's three-person primary election.
The two-term incumbent will try to hold onto that edge for Nov. 8's general election against challenger Chris Vallo and his message that property assessments often exceed market value. In the primary, Vallo took a little over 20 percent of the vote to beat a third candidate.
The assessor oversees mass property appraisals for the county. Those values are used to calculate individual taxes that support fire departments, schools, libraries and other government functions.
Portmann, who lives near Snohomish, joined the assessor's office in 1987. She worked her way up from an entry-level position and spent 10 years as chief deputy assessor before being elected to her first term.
She switched the office to yearly appraisals in 2004 from once every four years. Her staff also has worked to make more information available to taxpayers online.
"I've continued to use technology to increase our efficiency and also access to the public so they have what they need to review their assessments," Portmann said.
As evidence of how things are working this year, Portmann points to the low number of property appeals: 270, so far. That's several times below the historical average for her office, she said, or for assessor's offices elsewhere in the state.
Vallo, a licensed real estate broker from Lake Stevens, works as an engineering manager at Frontier Communications. He has no experience with mass appraisals, but says that the county's current system under Portmann isn't working. He has pointed to complaints from homeowners who say their homes are worth much less than the assessed value.
"My bottom line is I want to help the people of Snohomish County, to help the taxpayer and give them a clear vision," he said.
During an interview last week he could point to no independent studies or audits suggesting where Portmann's office might be going wrong.
Studies by the Legislature and professional assessors have shown Snohomish County meeting international standards and outperforming many other offices throughout the state.
Appraisals lag behind the actual real estate market in part to give people time to appeal. Assessed values for any given year are used to calculate taxes due the following year.
A tightening budget has reduced the assessor's workforce to 62.5 positions from 76 in 2007. During the same period, the office's workload has increased to at least 284,000 yearly property appraisals from 215,000, a rise of almost a third.
As of last week, Portmann's campaign contributions approached $23,000 with donors including unions, the Snohomish County-Camano Association of Realtors and elected leaders, past and present. Vallo raised about $9,600 from contributors including the Master Builders Association's political action committee and real estate investor Marty Robinett.
The job pays $104,360.24 per year. The amount is set by an appointed salary commission.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,
Snohomish County Assessor
Cindy Portmann
Age: 55
Residence: Snohomish
Occupation: Snohomish County Assessor
Priorities: To maintain fair and equitable assessments, despite continued budget reductions and increased workload; to continue providing excellent customer service; to continue to look for innovative ways to use technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Chris Vallo
Age: 53
Residence: Lake Stevens
Occupation: Engineering manager for operations at Frontier Communications, licensed real estate broker.
Priorities: To assess properties at 100 percent of true and fair market value; to be responsive and accountable to the people and regain their trust that their assessments are accurate; to have an open-door policy that allows people to come into the office and feel that they are valued and treated fairly.
Story tags » Snohomish County governmentTaxesLocal elections

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