15 Sep 2014
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LTE: Reject Assessor Move to Commissioner of Revenue

A reader questions the change under consideration Wednesday by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors.

LTE: Reject Assessor Move to Commissioner of Revenue

Dear Editor: The Board of Supervisors should vote against moving the Assessor function to the Commissioner of Revenue office. Eight points to consider:

  1. The prior County Assessor was selected via a nationwide executive search. He was highly qualified and effective. During his seven years of service, he brought assessments and related programs into compliance with the state and local mandates. The office was professionally managed and restructured under strong, independent, leadership. During the Government Reform Commission interview, the CoR couldn’t recall his office budget. He said, “I knew you were going to ask that question,” and deferred to staff. Does the current CoR have the qualifications, management expertise, licenses, or certifications to function as the County Assessor?
  2. The perception problem identified in the GRC recommendation is a red herring. Citizens don’t care if the assessment is X and the tax rate is Y. They care about total tax. A perception of political cronyism is the problem. The assessor is responsible for valuing over $60 billion in real estate, the basis of the county’s largest local revenue source. The current CoR is the Finance Chair of the GOP 10th Congressional District Committee. The perception that political “friends” will receive favorable assessments and ordinary citizens will bear an unfair share of the tax burden is insurmountable. The Assessor must be objective, independent, impartial and insulated from political influence.
  3. As finance chair of the GOP 10th Congressional District, the CoR serves under John Whitbeck, a member of the GRC. Mr. Whitbeck is the political boss in a patronage system that powers the re-election of the CoR. In spite of this conflict of interest, Mr. Whitbeck did not recuse himself from GRC’s assessment reorganization hearings or votes and the CoR tried his best to downplay the idea that this conflict is a cause of concern.
  4. The assessor’s office staff will be reorganized under the CoR and will lose its ability to file grievances. If an employee is directed to modify an assessment by a superior and refuses, he or she may be fired by the CoR with no recourse. Under the recommended reorganization, staff must sign an affidavit and waive their current employment rights or their position with the county will be eliminated under a “reduction in force.”
  5. The county is in the midst of a criminal investigation involving supervisor aides who allegedly have no grievance or whistleblower protections. The Board of Supervisors knows that this is an organizational defect. Do they want to repeat it?
  6. Loudoun County’s real estate roll is the second largest in the state. An asset of this magnitude should be professionally managed. The largest locality with an assessment process under a CoR is Stafford County, which has an assessment roll of approximately $13 billion. Loudoun’s portfolio exceeds $60 billion. Every major locality in Virginia has the real property assessment function under an independent office and assessor, not a CoR. Why is Loudoun suddenly inclined to make a regressive, politically motivated organizational change that undermines the revenue and taxation process, immediately following the controversial termination of the former assessor.
  7. The GRC stated that the consolidation of the CoR and assessor functions would increase efficiency and provide additional revenue from the state for the services provided by the CoR. No support was provided by the GRC for either statement. What is the amount of funding that will be provided by the state and how will the consolidated operation be more efficient? Will the CoR be eliminating positions? What is the CoR’s plan regarding restructuring and reorganization?
  8. The voters didn’t vote for a CoR serving in the reorganized capacity recommended by the GRC.

The fact that the GRC recommendation failed to identify any of the above points discredits its recommendation. The Board of Supervisors should reject it.

Jonathan Weintraub

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