Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct information given by candidate Christopher Woolery during the forum.
The Pettis County Pachyderm Club continued its series of candidate forums for the Aug. 2 primary election, this time inviting Republican candidates for Pettis County Assessor to share their views.
All five candidates — Susan Young Yelton, Angie Luebbering, Mark A. Thomas, and Christopher C. Woolery, all of Sedalia, and Karen Hill, of Smithton — attended the forum Friday afternoon at Best Western State Fair Inn. Assessor Karissa Logan is not running for another term, leaving the seat open. Since all five candidates are Republican, the race will be decided in the Aug. 2 primary election.
The five candidates were asked five questions by a moderator and received a few questions from the audience.
The candidates were asked what their biggest strengths were that make them qualified for the office of assessor and each said “experience and knowledge.”
A few offered additional strengths, such as Thomas, who said he’s detail oriented and has experienced change while working in the employee benefits and managed health care industry, and Yelton, who added that she is approachable. Woolery said he would expand on “experience and knowledge,” saying he has “relevant experience and knowledge” as the deputy assessor, and that he has the needed technical skills.
The candidates were then asked if they have any enhancements or improvements in mind for the assessor’s office if they are elected. Thomas didn’t offer any specifics other than continuing to maintain the software programs already in place and “making those better.” Again, most of the candidates had similar answers — most candidates said it is necessary to maintain and/or upgrade the office’s technology.
Luebbering and Yelton both said disseminating more information about what the assessor’s office does would be a welcome improvement.
“One thing I would like to implement is it seems so many young people are unfamiliar with assessments, what they are, why do you need this. You get a lot of questions,” said Luebbering, who has 18 years of experience in the real estate field. “I would like to see something maybe the assessor could implement in personal finance at school, maybe a day or two and share with them what actually property taxes are, assessment sheets, things like that.”
“I think one of the biggest things I see in my field in just talking with the general public, and it’s not just the younger generation, some of us older people have a hard time understanding what the assessment process is, how it’s calculated,” said Yelton, who has an appraisal real estate firm. “So what I would like to see is more knowledge given out to the public, be approachable with questions and concerns.”
Woolery addressed that concern during his turn with the microphone.
“For introducing people to the system, we’ve actually done that this year in having a few groups of high school graduates coming through the courthouse and we walked them through some of the processes we go through,” he said, adding that they also have fliers available in the office for those new to the assessment process. For improvements he would like to see, he said he’d like to expand the use of the Pettis County website and add a protective barrier from angry, irate customers, as right now they can just walk right inside the office without a window to stop at.
Hill, who serves as the Smithton City Clerk and is a former real estate appraiser, agreed with Woolery’s statement that the assessor’s office is up-to-date on technology, but would like to see improved communication.
“I feel that being a public servant, customer service is your main responsibility,” she said. “I’ve been in the assessor’s office with irate taxpayers. Most of the time it is a lack of communication. I’ve drawn pictures and the sheriff didn’t need to be called. It’s how you communicate with the public.”
The candidates were asked about their experience with budgets and how they propose to manage the assessor’s budget. Luebbering said it’s important to “put what you need first and foremost to make sure the office runs smoothly and the taxpayers have access to things they need.”
Yelton said she has an accounting degree and oversaw the accounting department of four employees at Waterloo Industries.
“There’s a process in place already with our board that is being followed, so I wouldn’t know until I get in there if improvements need to be made or not, but it seems like things are running pretty smoothly,” she said.
Woolery said he has consulted on the budget for the last two years and gave an explanation of the assessor’s budget.
“With the assessor’s office, we have just under a ($500,000) budget and about three-fourths of that is salaries, and the other bulk is our software and any other expenses,” he said. “With the budget the way it is, the assessor’s is rather interesting because most of it comes from the state and fees. Once we get to the point where we need to incur expenses beyond where our revenues are, which are assessment fees and reimbursement from the state for the assessments we do, once we go through that, that is when we start getting into the general revenue.”
Hill, who said she has worked on budgets with assessors in 114 Missouri counties, emphasized that using general revenue funds should not be an option.
“The assessor’s office is the only office in the courthouse whose revenue streams are mandated by legislation,” she said. “I have seen enough counties to know that the assessor’s office should never have to dip into county general funds. They should be able to maintain all their expenditures and revenues just through the money given by the state for legislation and that would be a goal of mine, not to have to borrow money from the county to maintain the office.”
Thomas said his experience with budgets includes working with budgets while managing offices, and that he “echoes what everyone else has said” and “we shouldn’t have to dip into the county budget for the fees.”
The candidates for Pettis County Coroner will speak at the next Pachyderm meeting at noon Friday at Best Western State Fair Inn.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.