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Assessor candidates discuss qualifications, skills

With the Nov. 2 General Election just around the corner, Archuleta County voters have the opportunity to affect the leadership of their local government, specifically in electing a new assessor.

The SUN recently spoke with the assessor candidates — Natalie Woodruff (Republican) and Fred Uehling (Democrat) — asking them to answer questions about the office, their qualifications and changes they would make if elected. Below are the questions and answers.

Briefly explain pertinent background or skills.

• Woodruff:

“I have supervised a varied staff of ten to seventy people with different skills and qualifications; I worked in the county clerk’s office for four years doing vehicle registrations and deeds; and then I worked for six years as title officer at Great Divide Title, working extensively in legal descriptions and mapping; and I have been with Wells Fargo since February 2007, honing customer service skills.”

• Uehling:

“I am a certified public accountant — I had a longtime federal career as an auditor for Health and Human Services and Social Security — and my responsibility was to save taxpayer money and recoup money that was misappropriated. ... (T)he next assessor will have only four months to get a good grasp of the assessor’s office and determine what improvements need to be made, and that parallels the career I had as an auditor.”

Uehling also spoke of his work owning a tax and accounting business for seven years in Pagosa Springs, noting it allows him to understand both sides of taxes, and that he hopes that, in the way he ensures clients are pleased with their tax returns, he hopes to see people are satisfied with their property taxes.

He also noted that he has taken five courses offered from the International Association of Assessing Officers.

What do you intend to do when you take office? What would you do differently?

• Uehling:

“I would improve customer service, always back up the staff, and I would improve the protest procedure so that people understood the various levels of protest they could go through, and I would also document office procedures so that everyone was on the same page in their assessment and in handling Ag. status and personal property taxes.”

• Woodruff:

“The first thing I intend to do is make sure that the valuations for the current sampling period are out on time and are accurate and correct.

“And I think I would work towards making the assessor’s office part of the county team as a whole and not so much of a separate entity, because we need all of the county offices to work together.”

What can be improved?

• Woodruff:

“That’s kind of the same thing. I think that some of the interaction between the assessor’s office and the taxpayers can be improved, including explanations of our process and making things simple for people to understand.”

• Uehling:

“The first thing I would do would be to improve the website — more information of what the process is,” Uehling said, adding he would include information on protest procedures. Uehling also noted that office’s public image could be improved in terms of being available for taxpayer questions; exemptions for senior citizens; tracking of active duty military persons and disabled veteran exemptions in case of retroactive legislation; fair and consistent policy; customer service; accuracy; and specialized staff training.

What is your understanding of the powers and limitations of a county assessor?

• Uehling:

“The powers are to discover, locate and assess market value for all taxable property in the county, including land improvements, residences for personal property, for oil and gas, and to determine exemptions and agricultural status and to follow state law, which is both a power and a limitation.”

• Woodruff:

“I understand the basic principles of the county assessor and feel that, as soon as I know if I’m elected, then I will work towards learning all aspects of those requirements and limitations.”

If you could ask your opponent one question, what would it be?

• Woodruff:

“With your experience in accounting, auditing and as a CPA, why did you not run for treasurer?”

Uehling response:

“The current treasurer, although she had an issue four years ago, has done a very good job in my opinion over the last two years, since 2008, and she has improved the computer system. She has improved the communication with the other departments and she has done a good job. My task was to run for the job that needed the most improvement.”

• Uehling:

“What are your qualifications to do this job?”

Woodruff response:

“My qualifications are that I have experience supervising people, I have knowledge of mapping and legal descriptions, I have knowledge of the county offices and how they should work together and, most importantly, I believe the taxpayers of Archuleta County should be treated as individuals and not just parcel numbers.”