Last month I was the opening speaker on a “Service Excellence” briefing — a key element of the five year strategic plan our County Council adopted last year.
This Plan (“Working Together for One King County”) and its goals apply equally to the Executive departments and to agencies headed by separately elected officials — Sheriff, Elections Director, Prosecutor and your hard-working Assessor.
My team sets the pace when it comes to Service Excellence. Customer service is central to the new way of doing business we are bringing to the Dept. of Assessments.
My presentation runs from 00:09:20 to 00:20:45 in the hour-long session video. Here are a few nuggets:
- Our revamped public website attracts over 3 million hits a month.
- In 16 months in office, I delivered over 200 educational presentations to community groups of all kinds.
- We aim to return phone calls within one business day. (The county-wide standard is 72 hours.)
Council Members were very complimentary in their comments — as were other panelists later in the program.
I also want to compliment you on the tremendous outreach you’ve done … and the changes that are going on there to be more efficient and more timely and more helpful.
– Council Member Larry Phillips
I just want to commend you … getting around to 39 cities is NOT easy, and over 200 presentations is astounding.
– Council Member Reagan Dunn
The idea of actually having a human being on the telephone is SO EXCITING! … It helps people to really understand that this is their government.
– Council Member Kathy Lambert
My first year and a half in office has flown by, with much accomplished and much yet to do. Looking forward to re-election this year, with Filing Day only weeks away.
Irish and Honorary Irish Friends of all stripes,
We Irish have a saying – well, more than a few. Why, ’tis truly said:
If only wars were fought with words,
and Ireland would rule the world!
But the saying that guides me as Assessor is this:
There is no tax on talk.
These are words I live by, as every host who ever penciled me in for “brief remarks” can well attest.
While we’re “thinking green” …
We’re doing our part for a greener environment – working on paperless versions of high volume processes, and exploring property tax incentives for green building design.
Last month, I joined civic leaders for a walking tour of Issaquah’s zHome development. This zero net energy, carbon neutral residential project is the first of its kind on production scale in the United States.
I brought folks from the Cascadia Green Building Council, Built Green, and King County’s Green Tools program together for a sustainability round table. My office is eager to share data and trade ideas as LEED certified buildings (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) multiply in our region.
Speaking of building design, here’s a useful guideline:
May your home always be too small to hold all your friends. May your roof never fall in, and may we friends never fall out.
And now for the raisin’ o’ the green …
If you’re lucky enough to be Irish … you’re lucky enough!
But it takes more than the “Luck o’ the Irish” to win a county-wide campaign. Please do your bit for the cause, and send $50 – $100 – $250 or more right away!
You can also mail checks (maximum $1,600 per person) to the campaign at:
Citizens for Hara
466 Smith Street
Seattle, WA 98109
You’re down on your luck and cannot spare even a penny? As we say in the Old Country:
Now get down on your knees
and thank God you’re still on your feet.
Thank You and Best Regards,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.