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Republican assessor primary: Prior versus Woodruff

County Assessor incumbent Keren Prior faces a challenge from Natalie Woodruff in the Aug. 10 Republican primary for county assessor. The winner of the primary will face Democratic candidate Fred Uehling in the Nov. 2 general election.

An Archuleta County resident since 1994, Prior has served in the assessor’s office since 1999. Woodruff has resided in the county since 1996 and is currently employed with a local bank.

When asked by SUN staff “What challenges do you anticipate for the upcoming valuation period?,” Woodruff responded, “Making sure there is correct data in the system, which was an issue during the last valuations because of the system conversion, and that the models used for the mass appraisal are accurate. There are good people in the assessors office and I anticipate a smooth transition, but there is a lot to do in a very little time.”

Prior’s answer to the same question was, “As everyone knows the economy nationally and internationally took a drastic turn for the worse. Even though Colorado, as a whole, weathered it better than some states we are still seeing and feeling its effect on our community. One of the areas hardest hit were sales of vacant land from January 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010. The difficulty will be in finding enough qualified sales to set values for the 2011 reappraisal without going back in six month increments. Qualified sales are arms-length transactions as defined by the state auditors.”

In answering the question, Prior added, “The second challenge will be looking at real estate owned (REO) properties, improved properties that were taken back by lending institutions, placed on the open market and then sold. Currently we are still verifying sales to determine qualified sales and where, if any, adjustments will need to be made. Foreclosures and short sales are looked at however, under State Audit guidelines these are normally disqualified even when the economy is good. It is not until they are sold on the open market that they are taken into consideration as qualifying sales. A preliminary review shows there were both types of sales, individual and bank owned sales.”

SUN staff then asked the candidates, “What, if anything, could be done differently in running the assessor’s office?” to which Prior replied, “Metal detectors at the doors would be nice ... It is easy for some to criticize and place blame and quite another to take the time to see that everyone is doing the best that can be done with what they have to work with. There is always room for improvement anywhere you go. The difficulty is limited resources.

“Ever since the staffing cuts everyone has taken on double duty, while trying to maintain productivity in close, confined areas. In a perfect world there would be more space, additional staff to answer questions and a public relations person to keep the public informed on changes as they occur.”

For her part, Woodruff answered, “The county has already refunded or abated over $50,000 this year from last year’s protests. I would like to see that process work better. How much more did it cost in staff hours for those protests to get to this point? I would like to see resolution to protests occur earlier in the process. I think some common sense up front would be extremely helpful in helping this to occur. The commissioners can then have realistic property values to base their mill levy on and therefore are able to have accurate information to base the annual budget on. That $50,000 plus other incurred expenses has to come from somewhere.”

Finally, SUN staff asked the candidates, “Why are you the best candidate for county assessor?” and Woodruff’s answer was, “I plan to use my experience in supervising staff, how the county offices work together, real estate title research, and customer service, to be successful as the next county assessor. I like to have a working knowledge of all aspects of a job so that I know how things relate and can make sure work is done properly and on schedule. I want the assessor’s office to work efficiently for the benefit of both the property owners and the county. We are a family, without one the other does not exist. We all know we have to pay taxes. I want to make the process as fair as possible and will look for ways to make that happen.”

Responding to the same question, Prior said, “In order to be a working county assessor you have to be able to perform the job and be a leader. That takes experience, knowledge and qualifications. The fact is you need to be an asset to those you are leading and not a liability to those you are serving.

“Ask an appraiser what it cost in time and money to become a Certified Residential Appraiser today. Then talk to a title attorney, oil and gas executive, Realtor, GIS and statistical analyst, developer and legislator on how long it took and the cost involved to get past the learning curve and be productive.

“It was a career choice 12 years ago and still is ... campaign promises made have been kept; the acquisition of a new windows based data software program was purchased replacing the 20 plus-year-old DOS software. It has increased productivity with data entry, reports and comparisons are easily accessible. During crunch times we are able to remote in from home to complete work in the evenings and weekends. If records are lacking information from the conversion it red flags them.

“The demands of the job continually increase; with the new software we are working smarter not harder in meeting deadlines. The assessor’s website is informative, accessible, and user friendly. I receive e-mails from all over acknowledging how it is a useful tool to do research from any computer. We continue to find new avenues to improve upon it.

“I have proven my capabilities, promises made were promises kept. My contacts and involvement with the Legislative Committee has benefited you with the Homestead Exemption Act, increased personal property and Possessory Interest exemptions which provide relief to small business owners, farmer and rancher and the implementation of a procedures policy will expedite the approval of plats. While remaining objective and fair I will not compromise my ethics or values. I remember always that I represent and work for the citizens of Archuleta County.”