Technology upgrades and regulation changes expected
Amid the flurry of political forums, campaign dollars, and candidate signs adorning front yards across the county, there’s a small group of people running less fiery campaigns this election season.
Those candidates, all running unopposed for their respective county offices, include: Barbara Lopez, running for tax collector; Jennifer Perry, running for assessor; Alissia Northrup, running for clerk/recorder, and Clinton Schaad, running for auditor/controller. Northrup and Schaad are running for re-election. Lopez and Perry currently serve as assistants for the offices they seek.
Lopez, who currently serves as the assistant tax collector, started working for the county about 15 years ago in the Assessor’s Office.
“I wanted to start creating a career and working for the county is a way to do that,” she said.
Lopez had only worked for the assessor for about half a year before transferring over to the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office as an account clerk — a world she had previously been exposed to when she worked for a private accounting firm.
Lopez said that over the course of more than a decade she worked her way up to assistant tax collector, a position she’s held for the last four and a half years, where she got to know every aspect of the office.
“It’s been a great learning experience for me,” she said.
She said one of her big goals as the county tax collector will be to help get the department’s software up to date and off the DOS-based system it’s currently running on.
“It’s not point and click by any means,” Lopez said, referring to the current software. “There’s no reason for that in this day and age. I’d like to see us brought up to the 21st century. We need to have some more online functions for the taxpayers.”
However, while the motivation is there, the money is not, Lopez said. The current system, which Lopez said much of the county uses and was adopted in 2004, costs roughly $300,000. Lopez estimates that an upgrade will cost at least that much and that the 21st century vision is probably two years away. A meeting to discuss the logistics of such an upgrade is scheduled for August.
Additionally, Lopez said that a notable blip on the office’s radar is the possible reinstatement of California’s Property Tax Postponement Program, a program that gives senior and disabled citizens cash reimbursements for part of the property taxes on their homes. The program was canceled in 2009 because of state budget shortfalls, but the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office submitted a letter to the Board of Supervisors that asked the Board to support reinstating the program, as did other counties in the state. The Board approved that letter at its May 13 meeting.
“It’s in the beginning stages, so we won’t start seeing the big yes or no votes until September,” Lopez said. “It’s moving forward.”
Northrup is looking to continue in her position as county clerk, an office she was appointed to in 2009 and elected to in 2010. Northrup has worked in the Clerk/Recorder’s Office for 12 years, having started as a legal process clerk and working her way up to assistant county clerk.
“I just feel like it’s my calling, and that I’m the most qualified for the position,” she said, adding that she enjoys interacting with the public — one of the elements of the job.
One of Northrup’s goals is to oversee local implementation of VoteCal, the long-delayed statewide voter registration system that’s set to replace the current system here in November 2015 — “hopefully,” Northrup said.
The current registration process involves a voter registering in Del Norte, his or her registration being mailed to the secretary of state for validation, and then the validated registration being sent back here.
“It’ll enable us to have same-day voter registration,” Northrup said. “It’ll be easier for the counties to clean up their rolls.”
Northrup said that she’s looking forward to continuing her work in making certain databases and records available online. Since she’s been in the Clerk/Recorder’s Office, Northrup has seen property records made searchable on the internet, but she said there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“The Del Norte official records database is a huge thing,” she said.
Also, the office has been busy restoring old books of records, some of them dating back to the late 1800s. That project involves shipping the old books — three or four a year, she said — off to a vendor and having a page-by-page restoration completed. She said that depending on how badly a book is damaged, the restoration process can cost $1,000 to $1,500 per book. In the past four years the office has seen 12 books restored, Northrup said.
“As the keeper of the records it’s your job to make sure these records are kept forever,” she said.
Perry, Del Norte’s assistant assessor who has her eye on the assessor’s position, started working for the county as an entry level appraiser’s aid eight years ago.
While working in the Assessor’s Office — in Appraiser I, II and III roles, as well as serving as the chief of the Appraisal Division — she achieved her appraiser’s certificate and also an advanced certification.
“After committing the last eight years of my career to the Assessor’s Office, I feel confident in my ability to take on the responsibility of Del Norte County Assessor,” Perry wrote in an email to the Triplicate, citing her appraisal experience in residential, commercial, personal and business property.
“Starting as an aid involved a lot of training — there was a big learning curve, I was always in learning mode,” said Perry, who has a degree in elementary education from California State University in Chico. “The assessor’s position just feels like a natural step.”
Perry said that as assessor she would like to see certain information like parcel numbers, situs addresses, tax rate areas and assessed value totals available online and searchable by the public by the end of the year. Also planned, she said, is a feature to view the assessor parcel map for a specific map book and page — something you can only do in person currently.
“I’d like to make things convenient,” Perry said.
Another job challenge that Perry says she’s ready for is staying abreast of ever-changing state legislation and regulations that could affect local property owners. Issues like ownership rights in regard to same sex marriages — legal in California for a short time in 2008, then repealed, then reinstated in 2013 — are a good example of why the county appraiser needs to be knowledgeable on the state of current legislation.
“Specific dates and years are very important to our office, so we can conduct our work in accordance with state law,” she said.
Perry also pointed to new construction involving solar energy systems, which are currently exempt from taxable construction but will become taxable in 2017, a date that will arrive during her tenure as assessor.
“The assessor and staff have to be informed and knowledgeable in order to conduct their jobs legally and responsibly,” Perry said.
Schaad, Del Norte’s auditor/controller, will continue in his role as the county’s chief financial officer after tonight’s election.
He’s been with the county almost 12 years — eight of those as the sheriff department’s head of finance and four as the county auditor — and he said he’s looking forward to his next term.
“This term has gone really well. We’ve made some big gains,” he said. “It’s not all my doing. We have a good group of people.”
Schaad lists eliminating furloughs — which were implemented when county employees agreed to take a 4 percent reduction in pay by working 76 hours every two weeks — as one of those gains. Other achievements included balancing the budget without having to lay off any employees, as well as working through AB 109, California’s effort to reduce the prison population by putting low-level offenders in county jails and probation departments.
That bill, signed into law in 2011, resulted in a loss of $714,000 to the county due to the loss of a state-funded in-custody drug treatment program, according to a 2013 county staff report.
Currently Schaad said the Auditor’s Office is working out the details of next year’s budget, a preliminary draft of which is due to the Board of Supervisor’s at the end of June.
After the budget work is done, Schaad said, the office will be shifting gears to deal with the day-to-day of keeping up with state regulations as well as all the claims for payment for the county that come through the office. Specific projects, like the $1.8 million Border Coast Regional Airport Authority loan the Board of Supervisors approved in April, are also on the to-do list. That loan money will go toward completing runway safety area improvements. “We’ll have to work through the details about how that will impact the cash flow, if it will,” Schaad said.
This year’s unopposed run is a gear-shift in itself for Schaad, who faced two challengers in the 2012 election.
“I feel blessed that the community supports me,” he said.