Spokane County voters will see a new leader in the county assessor’s office, come next year. The incumbent, Vicki Horton, is leaving at the end of her term. One of her lieutenants is vying to replace her, as is a local realtor who once filled in for a year as a legislator in Olympia. Both are Republicans.
Tom Konis started his career in the assessor’s office nearly 25 years ago.
“My job is to place values on buildings and land that is then the basis of your tax bill,” Konis said.
And how do you do that?
“Depends on the type of property," he said. "A lot of the more normal parcels we look at comparable sales and then try to get the value in that range.”
Sometimes there are no comparable sales, for example, at one of Konis’s assignments, the former Kaiser Aluminum complex in North Spokane. That makes the assessment a little trickier. And when the valuation is made, people who disagree with it sometimes make a trip to the courthouse to give the assessor a piece of their mind.
Konis says that’s just part of the job, and he defends the role of the assessor’s office as a necessary part of the structure of county government.
He’s served under several assessors and now, a quarter of a century in, with his latest boss leaving, he’s decided it’s his turn to give it a try.
“I’m not sure that I know why I want to be the head guy other than I have the experience and the knowledge in the office," he said. "I think the transition will be a smooth one. Right now the assessor’s office is performing at a pretty good level. We rank at the top in just about every statistical category the Department of Revenue, which oversees all of the assessor’s offices, tracks. We’re doing really well.”
He says the assessor’s office is a professional office; its people require formal training, and it’s best run by someone who has had that training.
“I’m not a politician. I’ve never wanted to be a politician and there really is no room for politics in our office," he said. "Everybody who comes into our office should be treated the same, no matter what party or whatever you’re affiliated with.”
Konis’s opponent, Leonard Christian, is also a Republican. He retired from the Air Force and went into real estate sales. He also served one year in the legislature as a replacement for former Spokane Valley state Rep. Larry Crouse. Christian was defeated when he sought to be re-elected to that seat. He says others had approached him in the past about running for assessor, but he declined because Horton, a fellow Republican, held the office.
“When I found out she had announced she’s retiring, it became an open seat and I got another phone call. I thought I should look at this a little bit more," Christian said. "I started going down the list of what they do and it’s just check, check, check. It’s a business position. You’re managing a three-point-four million dollar budget of the taxpayers’ money.”
Christian thought it was a good fit for him, so he filed to run. He says the people skills he developed as a realtor will allow him to improve the customer service of the assessor’s office.
Christian is a member of the county’s Board of Equalization, which considers tax appeals from property and business owners. He says Spokane County has one of the highest appeals rates in the state. He says that highlights the need for better communications from the assessor’s office.
“I’ve been dealing with people’s issues a good portion of my life and I find that most people just want to be heard. They want to be able to sit down with you and be able to explain their issue and, hopefully, you’ll be able to resolve that," he said.
Christian says he supports a full review of the appraisal process to make assessments more frequent and more accurate.
“Homes are sold, across the nation, on average, once every five years," Christian said. "So why are we not taking that sales price and assigning that as the assessed price when it’s sold? If it’s an arms-length transaction, they had a fee appraisal. They had somebody who is certified and licensed in the state go into the home, paid to look inside the home, not just sit out in the front street and take a picture. Look at the home. Come up with a value of the home. We disregard that value of what the actual home sold for.”
Leonard Christian is one of two Republican candidates for Spokane County assessor. He and fellow Republican Tom Konis are squaring off in the August primary. Since they’re the only two candidates in the race, they’ll also run against each other in November. You can hear our full interviews here.