Four in running for county tax assessor position

Published 11:58 am Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Four candidates are seeking the position of tax assessor for Warren County. They are Democrat Angela Brown, 42, Republican Mike Caruthers, 56, and independents Ben Luckett, 39, and Doug Tanner, 53. Caruthers did not return a questionnaire.

1. What can the tax assessor’s office do to keep owners of homes and businesses informed of their tax situation in addition to mailed notifications of increases?

Brown: The tax assessor’s office can print public notices in The Vicksburg Post on July 8 and July 18 (annually) informing taxpayers that Warren County real and personal property assessment rolls are ready for viewing and they can contact the assessor by phone or walk-ins to discuss their assessments. Objections to assessments should be made in writing and filed in the board of supervisors’ office by July 31. The assessor can also take advantage of current technology (internet and e-mail) to post notices and create an assessor’s web page listing property information and notifications of proposed tax increases.

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Luckett: If elected tax assessor, I would consider mailing every property owner in Warren County a notice that would show last year’s value and taxes along with this year’s value and estimate of taxes. The drawback from doing this is cost. With roughly 25,000 parcels in Warren County at 30 cents a card plus homestead notifications, you would spend about $8,500 a year. You could also put an ad in the paper letting property owners know that they can call or come by the office to receive new property valuations.

Tanner: In order to keep homeowners and businesses informed of tax increases, the tax assessor’s office could offer the citizens of Warren County an option of receiving their tax notice. The office could give an option to sign up to receive notices by electronic mail, text messaging, mail or by all three. By offering electronic mail or text messaging, this could be a savings of tax dollars for the citizens of Warren County.

2. In Warren County, real and personal property values are down 1 percent compared to last year — the first drop in more than two decades, with the continually sluggish economy to blame, officials have said. Do you believe it will continue?

Brown: Last year, Warren County had a tax revenue spike due to increased revenue from six new hotels and improvements to a local casino. In the three terms I’ve served as deputy assessor this is the first year I’ve witnessed a decrease in values. I attribute this year’s decrease in values primarily to the slow economy. I believe the economy will improve and produce more job opportunities for citizens and stimulate growth in Vicksburg. Contrastingly, if there isn’t growth or new developments I believe you will continue to see either level property values and/or possibly a decrease in values.

Luckett: I hope the economy will turn around soon for the sake of people’s jobs, but if it doesn’t, I am sure property values will continue to fall. This will lead to tough decisions for our school board, mayor and aldermen and supervisors. With property values declining, no new industries and no new construction, tax rolls will decrease, meaning less taxable value. What happens when taxable value goes down? The following could happen: tax rates could increase to make up for lost revenues; or budget cuts which could lead to unemployment, as well as fewer public services. Let’s pray that none of these occurs.

Tanner: With a possible increase of more industry for Warren County and an increase in necessary employment, I feel that the economy for our area could improve. This would offer the county more in revenue through tax dollars. A more accurate and fair assessment of property or real taxes would be very beneficial to attracting either corporate or individual businesses to our economy. If necessary, reassessment of property for all could be a possibility in keeping the tax structure viable for the county.

3. With retirements by the incumbent and top deputy assessor and two top staffers in the race, the next tax assessor is assured of a smaller, less-experienced office for the next four years. If elected, how will you address the changes in the size and breadth of experience in the office?

Brown: As your new assessor and having served as your deputy for 11 years, I will first actively recruit qualified individuals in the Warren County area. Secondly, I will recruit qualified individuals residing in regional localities. I would identify top applicants with great communication skills, caring, professional and with experience and/or interest in tax assessing/appraising and ensure they receive proper training through the Mississippi State Governmental Department. I will encourage them to receive Certified Appraiser Certification, Assessment Evaluator and ensure additional hands-on training as deemed necessary.

Luckett: It will be hard to replace the 60 years of experience that Jim and Ricky have, but I will do everything I can to keep the 127 years of experience in the office now. The reason I say this is because there are three who could retire today with 82 years of experience among them. If I can accomplish this, and I think I can, I would need only to replace the field appraiser job. I would look to hire someone who is experienced and holds necessary certifications so there wouldn’t be a lot of downtime for training.

Tanner: If elected as your new tax assessor of Warren County, I am willing to obtain any necessary training for myself and any new staff that is required to keep this office experienced. The most important attribute of this position or any employment to me is having a staff that is passionate about the citizens, businesses or entity that is being represented.

4. Why do you want to be tax assessor?

Brown: I have a passion for serving people. I will ensure all values are assessed fairly, making sure taxpayers pay no more than their fair share of taxes according to state laws (no one will receive preferential treatment). I have faithfully served you by performing duties including: researching/locating property information; printing maps/property cards; sketching homes/buildings and inputting information to assess values on 26,050 real property parcels, ensuring the assessor’s office functions properly and promptly addressing citizen concerns. I am qualified, experienced, knowledgeable of managing inner office and outside property appraisals. I am a certified appraiser and assessment evaluator.

Luckett: As with any job, you want to strive to reach the top. I started here during reappraisal in 1996 as a temporary job that could last a year and a half. I worked hard, hoping it would turn into a permanent position. It did. I received my appraiser license in 1998 and began taking classes to further my knowledge. This year I received the MAE certification, the highest certification you can earn through the State Tax Commission. I am ready to be your tax assessor; it’s what I know, it’s what I have done most of my life.

Tanner: A decision to be your next tax assessor was one not for myself, but for you, the voters of Warren County. This is a position that I believe requires new leadership to help each of you understand the assessment of your property. Once elected, I want you to be able to say that I was always fair and equal in making an assessment for every individual and business.