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Assessor race results reveal voters’ frustration over property tax increases

Incumbent Peter Van Nortwick will face a rematch of his 2014 race against Ridgefield City Councilor Darren Wertz

CLARK COUNTY — Peter Van Nortwick is well aware he’s not a popular guy. At a League of Women Voters candidate forum in July, the current Clark County assessor finished his opening statement by saying “It’s great to see a crowd that doesn’t have pitchforks already when I get up here, because typically when people invite me in, they already have pitchforks ready to go.”

Current Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick is facing a tougher fight for re-election this year. Photo by Chris Brown
Current Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick is facing a tougher fight for re-election this year. Photo by Chris Brown

Van Nortwick was the only one of the three Assessor candidates to attend the candidate forum. He has been up front in his belief that the men running against him were doing so because of a personal grievance.

“I’ve had two people come into my office and said that their property is worth zero,” Van Nortwick said last month at a League of Women Voters candidate forum, which neither of his opponents attended. “Both of them are running against me.”

That may be true of Norbert Schlecht, who did not file financial disclosure papers during his campaign, and has not returned ClarkCountyToday.com’s request for comment. But the man who will face off against Van Nortwick in November says the incumbent’s characterization of why he’s running is unfair. Darren Wertz says his property tax beef goes back before Van Nortwick was even in office.

Ridgefield City Councilor Darren Wertz will face off against current Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick in a rematch of the 2014 race. Photo courtesy Darren Wertz
Ridgefield City Councilor Darren Wertz will face off against current Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick in a rematch of the 2014 race. Photo courtesy Darren Wertz

“I purchased  a lot from a tax sale in the county, and there was no disclosure that it was a polluted site,” says Wertz. “But that didn’t have any impact on whether I ran against Peter at that time, or now. My argument there is more with how small cleanup sites like that are valued, and the tests for valuation that are used at the state level.”

Wertz says multiple appeals to the county and the state have since resulted in him getting the property valuation zeroed out. “I mean, who’s going to pay me to have a three million dollar liability?” he says.

Wertz has a masters in economics, and has served three terms as a city councilor in Ridgefield. He says he had been absent from the campaign, including that League of Women Voters candidate forum, because he was taking care of his sick mother.

“Everything else took a backseat,” he says. “But we found out last week that she’s actually doing a little better. I’ve been primary care for her 24/7, and so I haven’t really been able to do much campaigning.”

Now that she’s doing better, Wertz says he’s hopeful he can take the 32 percent voter support in the primary, and turn it into a win in November.

“When I ran before, I had some very specific performance measures that I tried to put out before the folks, but I don’t think I did a real good job in communicating those,” he says. “Maybe I’ll be able to do that better this time, because people will be paying a little better attention this time. Maybe. Hopefully.”

People might be paying more attention to the usually rather dry County Assessor race because of the steep property tax increase

The full evidence of the pain many in Clark County are feeling as their property tax bill spiked this year was seen in the 43 percent who voted for Van Nortwick. Wertz pulled in 32 percent, and Schlecht grabbed a quarter of the vote.

“I would have liked to have been around 55 or so,” says Van Nortwick. “And I think the biggest challenge is going to be getting the word out to the public about the increases that people saw in their property taxes, and really getting the word out that I was out there really early warning people.”

Van Nortwick says he’s clearly aware that people are upset about their tax bills, but maintains that, if he loses in November, the next man up would have to do the same thing.

“It’s just part of the job, and we’re required to do it by state law,” he says, “and if anyone else is coming in and they’re going to follow the state laws, they’re going to have to do the same thing.

“A lot of people don’t realize we have to assess a hundred percent of market value,” Van Nortwick adds, “and when values are increasing like they do, it’s really our job to go forward and put the values at a hundred percent of market value, regardless of how people may feel about it.”

Wertz says that’s true, to a point.

“I’m an economist, and anybody who’s done the modeling knows there’s a difference between how you build the models, and how you run them,” Wertz says. “There’s really quite a bit of subjectivity there.

“My perspective is more from a taxpayer advocate kind of thing, to where I’m more interested in whether or not we’re doing things fairly, and sensitive to wherever things fall through the cracks,” he continues, “Rather than just, bottom line, go out and get as much money and valuation as you can.”

Wertz lost to Van Nortwick by 22 percent in 2014. He says this time around he believes people may be more willing to hear him out.

“If people are happy with the way that Peter has been doing stuff, and they feel that they’ve been treated fairly, and that it’s the best way to run the county, then I guess that’s fine,” Wertz says. “But that’s not the perspective that I have, and I hope that it’s not the perspective that the electorate has when I get finished.”

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About The Author

Chris Brown

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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