The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that Peter Van Nortwick be retained as Clark County Assessor in the Nov. 6 election. While the assessor’s race is likely to garner more attention than usual this year, we believe it is essential for voters to recognize that Van Nortwick has grown into the job and oversees a well-run department.
As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Columbian trusts that voters will study the candidates before casting an informed ballot.
In examining what typically is a low-profile race, voters are likely to be influenced by a sharp increase in property-tax rates this year. But the assessor does not decide tax rates; he or she merely works to ensure accuracy and fairness in assessments. As Van Nortwick explained, “We are the only defense for taxpayers.”
Taxpayers might be feeling defenseless this year. The Legislature approved changes to how public schools are funded, leading to an increase in the state property tax. The role of the assessor’s office in that is important but limited, as the office estimates the value of properties throughout the county. If a property is undervalued, that means the tax bill for other property owners increases, but the county’s total tax bill remains unchanged.
Van Nortwick, a Republican, has been a licensed appraiser since 2003 and a certified general real estate appraiser since 2007. He has served two terms as assessor, initially being elected in 2010, and says, “I think the office is doing a great job.” An annual report from the Washington State Department of Revenue, Van Nortwick says, has found that the department is meeting all expected benchmarks.
Doug Lasher, who is retiring after 34 years as county treasurer and works closely with the assessor’s office, told The Columbian that Van Nortwick continues to improve the performance of the office; Lasher supports the incumbent’s re-election.
Meanwhile, Republican Darren Wertz is a worthy challenger. Wertz has experience as a land-use planning consultant, is a member of the Ridgefield City Council, and served 12 years on the Clark County Board of Equalization. That board hears appeals to property assessments, giving Wertz much-needed insight into the role played by the assessor’s office.
In his voters’ pamphlet statement, Wertz writes, “If you elect me you will put a member of the taxpayer team with taxpayer views in the game. We will have some say, rather than just pay the rent.” That is an attractive sentiment, but Wertz declined to meet with the editorial board, a decision that calls into question his willingness to serve constituents. Answering questions from the public is a basic duty of any elected official.
In contrast, Van Nortwick is willing to defend his record and to recognize that he works for the people. His office has improved its performance in meeting deadlines for sending out property valuation notices and in providing accurate assessments. He also has worked with the county treasurer and auditor to provide cross-training for employees and improve customer service.
Van Nortwick initially ran for office in 2010 as an idealist who saw shortcomings in the assessor’s office. He since has made improvements where possible while developing an understanding of what the assessor can and cannot control. Because of that, he has become an effective public servant.
The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that Peter Van Nortwick be re-elected as Clark County assessor.