Assessor's departure generates a flurry of interest in bean counter position.
Thursday, April 2, 1998
Only a number cruncher could love this job. You read charts and tax manuals, are governed by state laws, and have virtually no hope of ever making or changing policy. But when Monterey County Assessor Bruce Reeves, who also serves as county clerk and registrar, announced his plans to retire at the end of the year, folks seemed to come out of the woodwork to fill his shoes.
Now four candidates have filed to run for the $96,500-a-year post Reeves first won 16 years ago. When asked why there is so much interest in his job, Reeves is nonplussed. "Apparently there are just some people who want to do the job," he says.
Three of the four candidates for the assessor''s post have backgrounds in property and mortgage issues, while another says his experience as a trustee of a local college gives him the expertise to manage a county office with utmost efficiency.
But exactly what Bruce Reeves has been doing in his four terms as county assessor would be a mystery to most. Since the 1978 passage of Prop. 13, which limited the amount property values could increase to no more than 2 percent annually, the assessor''s office has been assigned the task of appraising property for tax purposes.
While this office has no control over property values and is restricted in its ability to increase assessments, it is nonetheless a busy post, says Reeves. There are some 140,000 properties, including parcels and real property like boats and planes, owned in the county.
"Monterey County is unique in that it''s a microcosm of the entire state. We have extremely high-priced residential property, we have agricultural property, world class resorts, oil, heavy industry, virtually every type of property to be found in California, with the exceptions of ski resorts and geothermal," continues Reeves. "It''s unique and very, very challenging because virtually any assessment problem that can occur is here."
One such problem occurred with the reassessment of the Pebble Beach Co.''s property in 1990 and 1992, when the company was sold. Both times the new owners and the county locked horns over the assessed value of the assets, and in both instances the county agreed to reduce its assessment figures.
In 1994, the assessor''s office merged with the offices of the county clerk, which oversees marriage licenses and records, and maintains files that constitute the official public record of all financial documents for the county. Reeves'' position now oversees all three departments and 61 employees.
Candidate and assistant assessor Joseph Pitta says he''s up to the task. "I''ve worked here for 29 years, I like the work and I want to stay here for a while," he says.
A true veteran with the department, Pitta began as an auditor-appraiser trainee, progressed into supervisor of the business division of the appraiser''s office, and then became the chief appraiser, where his position was reclassified into its current title, assistant appraiser. It''s a job he knows well, Pitta says, and one in which he feels experience is the key factor.
"It''s not a legislative office, we just administer the laws. In order to do a good job, you have to know about the laws, and have contact with the other offices we work with," the 57-year-old Pitta says. "I''m the only one who has any experience in this office. "
While Pitta claims insider experience is his strength, his three opponents view their roles as "outsiders" as crucial to their campaign strategies.
Escrow officer Clara Baber says that her 27 years of experience working for private business has given her a good perspective on different management styles and issues outside of government. "I believe we need someone from the private sector for some new ideas. I''ve been in management since 1978, and you need ideas for your management," she says.
An outsider could stay more connected to the public that the office is set up to serve, Baber says.
"How many of us were ever notified about real estate decreases in 1990? Our taxes continue to increase, never decrease, and most consumers don''t know they can apply to have their taxes decreased. I think we have we lost the reason why we are there-- it''s for our benefit, as taxpayers."
Baber, 49, also says there is a need to update the technology in the offices of county recorder and clerk. "If you''re a seller and you want to market your property, you go in to get information and they bring up everything on the property, but right now they are still using [micro] film. It needs to be modernized in some ways for the consumer."
Self-employed insurance analyst Mark Dierolf, 34, another "outsider," says "people on the outside do the best job doing things." His experience as a Hartnell College trustee, he says, gives him the management and budgetary expertise necessary to head up the three departments. "I know about managing a district, making sure people running each of those departments are qualified," he says.
Dierolf also sees the need for updated computer technology in the offices of the county clerk and recorder, which should have Internet access to expedite some basic processes like registering a fictitious business name.
For candidate Chuck Leonard, 55, being an outsider is exactly why he is running for the assessor''s position. As the president of Steinbeck Country Mortgage in Salinas and with 30 years in the banking and mortgage business, Leonard says he''s tired of the "roller-coaster life of up-and-down in this [private] business, I''ve had it."
His interest in county government is not new, however. Almost 20 years ago he ran for the position of county treasurer. "I started this quest in 1979, it''s not something I just decided to get into, it''s something I''ve been pondering for a good long time," he says.
Leonard doesn''t have any complaints with the current management of the assessor''s, clerk''s and recorder''s offices. "I think the three offices are running smoothly, I don''t think there is something that needs to be fixed," he says.
"But what the assessor''s office would gain is a new perspective from the private sector. Fresh blood is always good." cw