Concerns of county assessor not addressed in Clark County fall supplemental budget

Peter Van Nortwick says his office is facing a perfect storm with new construction and changes to a senior exemption program

CLARK COUNTY — The Clark County Council this week approved their final supplemental budget for 2019, and one department head wasn’t pleased with the result.

Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick speaks at an informational session on property taxes at Evergreen School District in February. Photo by Chris Brown
Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick speaks at an informational session on property taxes at Evergreen School District in February. Photo by Chris Brown

Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick testified in front of the council at their Tuesday morning meeting, asking them to reconsider the inclusion of two full-time positions to deal with the new property tax exemption program for seniors.

“If I don’t get these two temporary positions, there will be significant detrimental impacts to the county, cities and its citizens,” said Van Nortwick. “The county manager suggests I focus on new construction and current use, which brings in the most revenue to the county. He suggested I stretch out the senior exemption process. Stretching out the senior exemption process will not only add more work to my office, but also to the treasurer’s office through increased phone calls, lobby visits and senior concerns.”

Van Nortwick noted the assessor’s office gave up three full-time positions in 2013 when new construction in the county was slow.

“And I told the council at that time when I gave them back, when I need the positions, I will come back and ask for them,” Van Nortwick told the council. “I’m asking for project positions to help get us through these next couple years with the storm that we have, with all the new construction (and) with the increase in the senior exemptions.”

Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick speaks at a July 2018 League of Women Voters candidate forum. Photo by Mike Schultz
Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick speaks at a July 2018 League of Women Voters candidate forum. Photo by Mike Schultz

Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee said he declined to recommend the two-year positions in his supplemental budget due to concerns over the cost, but he is recommending one additional permanent full-time assessor in his 2020 budget at a cost of approximately $120,000. The cost of the two part-time positions would be $116,178. 

As of next year, the income level to qualify for a property tax exemption for seniors over the age of 61 will increase from $40,000 to $50,348. Van Nortwick says there are currently 6,700 people taking advantage of the program. With the new qualifications, their data shows approximately 15,000 homes in Clark County would qualify. If half of those people decided to take advantage of the program, that would be around 4,000 people coming into or calling the assessor’s office to get help signing up.

“We help a little over 1,100 people a year in the senior program (currently),” said Van Nortwick, calling this a perfect storm for his department that will also include an end to the one-year property tax relief from the state as part of their education funding package, as well as several local school districts that will be raising their local levy rates following changes by the state legislature this year. “If it comes down to getting these two project positions and giving up the appraiser position, I will take these two project positions now because I need them now and give up the appraiser position in the 2020 budget.”

“I’m not going to support it in the supplemental,” said Councilor Julie Olson. “I think we can have further conversations talking about the 2020 budget, and where resources may or may not be and where priorities may or may not be.”

County Chair Eileen Quiring was the lone “yes’’ vote for adding the positions to the supplemental budget, and said she hopes it can be discussed again as they dig into the 2020 budget in the coming months.

“When you think about the cost of housing, and some front page articles in the newspaper about how difficult it is for seniors to stay in their homes, this will help them to be able to defer their taxes at least,” said Quiring. “And some of them may have already paid off their home, and so it’s those taxes that are a burden to them. So, that’s my spiel, and I would hope that we will be able to find those funds to be able to process those customers.”

“There’s going to be a lot of other conversations around the 2020 budget. I would welcome that conversation at that time and look at funding positions, because this program is important,” said Councilor John Blom. “But overspending on our fund balance and just hoping we can find savings later, I think, is not a responsible and appropriate way for the county to budget.”

Olson also noted the 2020 budget discussion kicks off at the end of November, so it wouldn’t add a significant delay to getting the new senior exemption positions hired if money can be found.
For more on the county manager’s recommended 2020 budget package, click here.

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