The Haines Borough Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday for contracting with an assessing firm to complete borough assessments and to train a local person for the assessor job.
Borough manager Mark Earnest said the most qualified job applicant for the assessor and land manager position, Dave Lockrem of Wisconsin, declined the borough’s offer last week.
"For whatever reason, it’s hard to land this person with this experience at this time," Earnest told the assembly at a special meeting May 7.
Earnest said because Lockrem’s decision to decline the job was the second unsuccessful attempt to fill the vacancy, he recommended soliciting proposals from contract assessor firms, and converting the borough’s temporary assistant assessor position, currently held by resident Dean Olson, to a full-time, regular position.
In an interview Wednesday, Lockrem said ultimately, it was the lack of employment opportunities for his wife that resulted in their decision not to take the job.
The compensation offered, the challenge of the work, and the warm reception by borough staff all were appealing, Lockrem said.
"It had all the appeal for me personally. It was the lack of ability to find something for my wife in terms of her employment" in the workers’ compensation insurance field.
Other factors in the decision included higher cost of living and the difficulty and inconvenience traveling down south to attend to elderly parents, Lockrem said. "Boy, we just hemmed and hawed. It was a tough decision."
The assembly voiced reservations about contracting an out-of-town firm for assessments, but voted unanimously to accept Earnest’s recommendation after discussion.
Earnest said part of the contract assessor firm’s job would be the normal work of updating borough property records, performing property tax appraisals, reviewing appeals by property owners, and representing the borough at the annual Board of Equalization.
A contract should be reevaluated annually, with extensions as needed, Earnest said.
Tasks identified by Earnest to be addressed next year include completing appraisals of residential and commercial property in the borough, a project started three years ago; updates to borough maps to reflect new accounts and changes in property ownership; monitoring the borough’s global information system; and transitioning the borough into an up-to-date, mass appraisal system.
The borough was mandated by the state assessor’s office to complete reappraisals three years ago but has yet to complete the task, said chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart, and the state assessor has strongly encouraged the borough to move to a computerized mass appraisal system.
A second part of the firm’s contract would focus on training a local borough employee as an assessor. That employee could then apply for the Assessor/Land manager position in the future, Earnest said.
Assemblyman Scott Rossman said he was concerned about the proposal to hire a contract assessor, as the borough had a bad experience when appraisals by a contract assessor resulted in numerous appeals to the Board of Equalization. "I do not want that to happen again, ever."
Assemblywoman Joanne Waterman also said she was concerned about a contract assessor.
Earnest said contract assessors were fairly common, and said he had experience with a large and well-known municipal assessor firm he could recommend.
"The goal behind this plan is to take a slow, well-thought-out approach to having an excellent, Haines Borough staff assessor," said chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart. "We’re not doing a good job of recruiting an excellent candidate, but we think we might be able to take someone who is a Haines resident and make them an excellent assessor."
Training a person would take an investment of time and money, Stuart said. Assistant assessor Dean Olsen, who has worked in the lands department 1.5 years, has shown talent and dedication to the job, and with training, might qualify to apply as the borough’s lead assessor, she said.
Earnest said the cost of a contract appraiser would be addressed through a request for proposals process, but said typically the borough would provide firms with information outlining the specific tasks and a firm would provide a lump sum cost estimate in return.
"I think the borough may need to bite the bullet and spend money on this," Stuart said.