My Take on Dow’s “State of the County”

This morning King County Executive Dow Constantine delivered his annual State of the County address. [See full text – and video when available.]

He tied our long-run economic outlook to support from key County services and infrastructure:

“We can provide the foundation for economic recovery and sustainable prosperity that will keep the state of our county – moving forward as one King County – strong and vibrant.”

… and keyed a sustainable County budget to a program of 3% cuts every year, year after year:

“… meeting shortfalls by constantly creating value, rather than diminishing service.”

In this light, our trendsetting campaign for a new way of doing business in the Department of Assessments becomes more urgent than ever.

Time after time, we set timely examples by adding value and cutting costs without diminishing service.

Speaking of urgent needs, I need your help in this year’s campaign for reelection. My team has done so much already to work smarter and serve you better, but we have so much more to do.

For example, I drafted legislation to give Assessors in Washington access to 21st-century tools. Legislation usually doesn’t move from zero to passage in one year, and frankly, the outlook is dim in 2011’s crisis-driven session.

With your active support – the more visible and vocal the better – I’ll be back to put these and other sensible reforms over the top in 2012.

I haven’t run out of ideas by a long shot. Don’t let me run out of time! Your support means everything to me – in the office and on the campaign trail.

Straight Talk at Tax Time

Property tax bills hit the street this week. This year, most of us owe higher taxes on homes assessed at lower values.

Typical reactions run the gamut from “Why are my taxes so HIGH?” to “Why are MY taxes so high?”.

You can ease the minds of friends who fear the whole system is off-kilter . . . and those who feel singled out for more than their fair share. When the tax topic comes up, focus on two fundamental ideas.

1. When we vote for more taxes, taxes go up.

This one is common sense, but easily overlooked. People complain “My taxes went up again. This can’t be right!” . . . but most of them voted for EMT’s, schools and parks.

The people directly approved most of the bumps in 2011 taxes. (See the Seattle Times and Issaquah Press for a sampling of recent coverage.) In fact, about half of the property taxes you and I pay are voter-approved.

2. When home prices fall, taxes don’t follow suit.

This one is harder to grasp – and explain. “My home lost value, but my taxes are as high as ever. This can’t be right!”

When people buy less, sales tax revenues fall. When companies do less business, B&O revenue drops. What makes property tax any different gives?

Property taxes in Washington are budget based. Elected officials in cities, counties, schools, ports, and special districts decide how much money to raise. Your share of the budgeted tax levy depends on your share of the total property being taxed.

When your neighbor’s house loses market value along with your own, the result is a wash – and your tax bills are going to look a lot like last year’s.

Still puzzled? At Stevens County, Assessor Al Taylor presents a popular illustration of this system in simple, accessible form. Details vary from county to county and year to year, but the same concept applies.

You can do the community a great service by sharing this straight talk with your many friends and associates. Through our 2,000-odd readers, we could reach a major share of King County taxpayers.

Thank You and Best Regards,

Lloyd

United for Justice, Committed to Service

Many of you in Martin Luther King Jr. County joined in recent National Day of Service projects, raised the roof at high school hoopfests, or took inspiration from other community events honoring Dr. King’s memory.

The same week, 50 years earlier, President John F. Kennedy invited us to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Those words — words that inspired me to a life in public service — echoed in my heart last Wednesday as they crackled from a D.C. taxicab radio within sight of the Capitol dome.

Standing for re-election this year as King County Assessor, I renew my commitment to MLK’s call for Justice and JFK’s call to Service.

Many of you question the justice of your own tax bills, and taxes in general. My office does not dictate tax laws or control tax rates for Washington State, King County, or its 163 taxing districts.

But within our powers of office, we work hard to advance the cause of Justice:

  • When we value property fairly and uniformly, you pay your fair share and nothing more.
  • When we stand our ground against hired experts on high-stakes tax disputes, we protect the average homeowner from having to make up the difference.
  • When we adjust assessment levels and trending formulas, we keep the whipsaw effects of today’s turbulent market to a minimum.

New Chief Appraiser Dennis Pulsipher strengthens our hand. Starting in this office over 30 years ago, Dennis quickly became the go-to guy on sticky issues in commercial and utility assessment. He moved on to WA State D.O.R., served as Chief Appraiser in Pierce Co., and spent the past decade as Chief Deputy Assessor for Thurston County.

Dennis will add “heft” to our side of the table in those high-value cases, and help find ways do our usual work in an orderly manner in today’s upside-down market.

If we don’t meet every taxpayer’s ideal of Justice in his or her own tax bill . . . at least we can deliver the best possible Service.

  • On the web, by phone, in the office, by e-mail, in the media, and at public meetings all over the County, we can explain what we do . . . how we do it . . . and why.
  • We can streamline the appeals process, and make it easier to find out early whether you have good grounds to appeal.
  • We can go to Olympia and press for laws that get us out of the age of “snail mail” and 5-part carbon copies.

All these are part of our commitment to Service . . . to a new way of doing business in your Department of Assessments.

In the pursuit of better service, Al Dams joins our team to spearhead a number of special programs. Al has a record of driving reform and introducing efficiencies in King County Parks, Records, and Animal Control.

In other milestones, January is the month we deliver our primary product – the completed tax roll – to the County Treasurer. This lays the basis for much activity (and argument) that follows through the year.

You can help us follow through
As King County Assessor, I’m up for re-election this year, and I ask for your financial support to help me win in November. You’ve just read about some of my recent activity but I have so much to do to make the Assessor’s office run even more efficiently. To win another term and continue my work for Justice and Service to all taxpayers, I need your help right away.

The maximum contribution in this race is $1,600 per person, but any amount will have a huge impact on my ability to communicate my message to voters county-wide. Simply click here to go directly to our secure online contribution page. You can also send a check directly to the campaign at:

Citizens for Hara
466 Smith Street
Seattle, WA 98109

I am honored to serve King County and I ask your support to continue that work for another four years. Please consider sending whatever amount you can manage — every $25 – $50 – $100 gets us that much closer to victory.

Doing All We Can to Cut Costs

Budgets are tight for public agencies at every level.  Budgets are tight for taxpayers, too.  We’re a small slice of the total King County budget, but my Department of Assessments is pitching in to control costs wherever possible.

Our proposed 2011 budget leaves no stone unturned and no penny un-pinched. Consultants. Office supplies. Laundry.  Here’s a little more concrete detail of what we did to reduce overhead and set a good example.

We will cut office rent in half by vacating an entire floor downtown.  Consolidating appraisal staff in our Black River (Renton) location should improve teamwork.  As an added benefit, free parking is available for the visiting public.

We scored bargains on vehicles lightly used by other departments (including energy-saving Prius’s — hybrid and plug-in). Using this small fleet to reform employee auto expense programs, we’ll save over $100,000.

Smarter bulk mail management will save another $100,000. When Washington law gives us the option, we’ll save even more by offering e-notification as an alternative to postal notices.  (And we’ll take the lead in pushing for the necessary legislative changes.)

We’re cutting paper – and paperwork – like it’s going out of style. (It is going out of style, right?)

  • We keep improving the public website, so taxpayers can find easy answers to routine questions without direct staff assistance.
  • We rearranged people and phone systems, so most callers reach helpful human beings on the first try.  (And in the process, we actually reduced the total number of phone lines we’re paying for!)
  • We increased customer contact by email, to follow up on remaining casework as efficiently as possible.

Better service at the front end eliminates hand-offs, follow-ups, call-backs, complaints, confusion and corrections at the back end.  This saves labor, paper and postage . . . and our customers like it, too!

Labor is far and away our biggest cost factor.  Almost everything my Department does is required by law.  We face stiff seasonal workload peaks, leading up to inflexible statutory deadlines.  Human resource cuts don’t come easy.

Our 2011 budget eliminates 18 FTE positions from a baseline of 224, and cuts overtime to the bone. Senior management committed early to a salary freeze, which now extends to all non-union staff.  The first of our two collective bargaining units has given final approval to a COLA freeze, and we are optimistic about the second.

With these measures in place, we expect to complete our required workload within budget and still improve communications with our taxpaying public.

Beyond these measures, we have big plans for technology and process improvements that will boost our efficiency and help local government serve you better in areas like permits, mapping, records and tax administration.

But that’s a story for another time.

Harbor Party Updates

At this year’s Harbor Party we are honoring Rick Bender,  who retires as Washington State Labor Council President in January after 17 years at the helm.  Rick previously spent 18 years in the State Legislature, and serves on numerous boards and committees.

Lloyd and Rick share long histories and diverse contacts in regional politics and public service.  Lloyd describes Rick as “a wonderful friend”.

The following have already signed on as Harbor Party sponsors, generally at contribution levels ranging from $150 to $1,600:

Ellen & Eddie Abellera
John R. Adams
Alan Alabastro
Sam Anderson
Bob Blanchard
Joe Casalini
Martha Choe
Ray Connell
David Della & Odette Polintan
Marlene Jones
Skip Kotkins
Nate Miles
Tomio Moriguchi
Arnie & Judy Ness
David Okimoto
Alan Panitch
Skip Rowland
Ted Schuchat
Tay Yoshitani

Stay tuned for latest news on sponsors and special guests.

Lloyd’s Annual Harbor Party Is Back!

We’re back! After a year in quiet mode, the Citizens for Hara campaign blog is back – and so is Lloyd’s Annual Harbor Party.

As in years past, live wires from around town and around the political compass will meet to rub elbows, fight over the appetizers and hash over the election results at China Harbor on Lake Union.  Mark your calendars and make your plans for 5 pm Tuesday, November 9, one week after Election Day.

Image of 2010 Harbor Party Invitation

This year’s event also marks the opening of fundraising season for Lloyd’s 2011 bid for re-election to a full four year term as King County Assessor.  It’s a mighty big job in these troubled times, and Lloyd’s crew has more than a year’s worth of big ideas to modernize the operation.

Follow us here for further details.  You can Donate at www.lloydhara.com/contribute/, RSVP to (206) 726-8053 or citizensforhara@comcast.net, and ask how to Sponsor our event to help jump-start the campaign.

And as always, thanks for your support.

See Lloyd Take the Oath

Please join us to witness Lloyd Hara’s official swearing-in as your new King County Assessor.

4:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 24, 2009
516 3rd Ave, Room E-746, Seattle, Washington
King County Superior Court
Judge Harry J. McCarthy, Presiding

Because our last elected Assessor resigned, Lloyd becomes Assessor on the day election results are certified.

Tuesday’s event will be straightforward and brief, as Lloyd takes the reins of a vital agency facing many immediate critical decisions.

Lloyd would like to thank Interim Assessor Lynn Gering and members of her staff, among many who have pitched in to facilitate this rapid transition.

We’ll advise you soon of a more elaborate celebration, open house and ceremonial oath-taking in early December.

FYI, Lloyd is also slated as an honoree at the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation’s “Diversity at the Top” event Dec. 4.

Please feel free to contact Lloyd

  • by phone (206-726-8053)
  • mail (466 Smith St., Seattle WA 98109)
  • or email (CitizensForHara@comcast.net)

to convey your congratulations and good wishes.

And in case you were wondering, you may still contribute to cover campaign obligations, transition costs and office-related expenses above and beyond the hard-pressed King County budget.

Yardsign Round-up

We could use your help. Many of our yardsigns are still out, and while we’re hurrying to collect them, it’s tough to get to them all. If you see any, please pick them up and let us know by writing citizensforhara@comcast.net. We’ll be happy to come and collect them from you.

Thanks so much for your support.

Get All Your Election Info Here!

Only a short amount of time left to get those ballots in! For your convenience, here’s some election info…

If you want to save postage, you can drop your ballot at one of many ballot drop-boxes. A list of locations can be found here: www.kingcounty.gov/elections/voting/ballotdropboxes.aspx

If you’ve already sent in your ballot, you can track it and make sure it makes it to processing by going here: info.kingcounty.gov/elections/mailballottracking.aspx

And if you’re still researching your votes, you can find the Voter’s Pamphlet here: www.kingcounty.gov/elections/elections/200911/contestscandidates.aspx

I hope I can count on your support!

Regarding the Permitting Issue

I’m embarrassed to learn from the Seattle Times that I didn’t have the proper permits for a basement apartment once used by my son and later others. I apologize to taxpayers, friends and supporters.

I’ve taken immediate steps to get the proper permits and amend my financial disclosure form with the Public Disclosure Commission. I did report rental income to the IRS.

I had mistakenly thought the basement-remodeling project was grandfathered in under city law. It wasn’t. It was an oversight.

While the timing of this is peculiar, there are no excuses. I was wrong. I’m fixing it. I’m truly sorry.