BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Attendees of the Oct. 3 virtual League of Women Voters Candidate Forum heard live from Democratic candidate for Los Alamos County Assessor George and were read a statement from Libertarian candidate Laura Burrows. The comments are represented below as well as the questions answered by Chandler.
The Assessor evaluates all taxable properties in the County for the purpose of imposing property taxes. I came here to work as a physicist and worked at the Lab for 27 years. Not long after I got here, I discovered politics and the County Council and I got hooked on politics. In parallel with my Lab career, I held elected offices for 16 years on the County Council, as Assessor and Municipal Judge. I learned about governments and the law and the role of the elected citizen in government. After I retired I wanted to know more so I went to law school to practice law. Among other things I represented business and individuals in County legal proceedings… and successfully sued the County to stop an illegal election. I remain involved in politics through the Party through some advocacy in reform efforts at the state level. One way to think about the role of the elected citizen in government is it’s to gum up the works. An image I love is the lone protestor in Tiananmen Square walking a long line of tanks. That doesn’t always work with tanks, for unlike the drivers of those tanks, the professionals who run the government have to answer to elected, non-professional, non-expert citizens – always asking dumb questions. That’s who I am and my education and experience makes me pretty good at it. I respect their education, their expertise and their intentions but I challenge their premises, their assumptions and their biases. So when I learned that the Assessor’s job would be open again next year I decided to run again as I bring the skills and experience to ask the right dumb questions. The elected Assessor is the part-time boss of an office with six professional of various levels of appraiser expertise. The Assessor, guided by state law sets the standards for the programs of the office. The Assessor must become familiar with all the operations of the office and is held to account for failures. The Assessor must assure that all personnel are appropriately trained and appropriately compensated. Importantly, the Assessor must plan ahead for inevitable personnel changes and contingencies because the assessment cycle is rigid and unrelenting.
A statement by Libertarian candidate Laura Burrows was read as Burrows was not in attendance:
The announced large scale hiring by LANL means that there is a high likelihood of significant new constructions of both housing and commercial properties in Los Alamos County over the next 4 years. Whatever valuation is assessed on this likely boom in construction/renovation, it will set the base line for tax revenues for Los Alamos County for decades to come. It is vital that the residents of Los Alamos County, and the business community have the highest level of confidence in the impartial and accurate nature of the decisions that come out of the Assessor’s office. I have no connection to realtors, developers, or construction business interests, nor does any member of my extended family. While this Assessor’s job duties are administrative in nature, I feel it is very important that the residents of Los Alamos County have the highest level of confidence that influence and favors have no part in the operation of the Assessor’s office. I ask that you vote for me, Laura Burrows, for Los Alamos County Assessor on Nov. 8.
What made you decide to run for this office, although I think you answered that?
I like being in elected office. I have studied this for my whole time that I have lived in Los Alamos and been in elected office. I think the presence of ordinary citizens in the County government makes County government better and I can do the Assessor job – I’ve done it before. It’s different now than it used to be but I can deal with that.
What changes if any would you make in the office?
The current assessor, Ken Milder, has won national and state awards for the excellence of the Office of Assessor in Los Alamos. You have no idea how the prestige of this office is in the assessor world. The only changes I would make to that would be to accommodate changes in law that are always likely to happen. The legislators are always out there looking to change tax laws and changes in whatever the circumstances are, but I have no plans to make changes to the office other than those to accommodate what needs to be done.
How do you assess the fairness of property tax evaluations?
A number of statistical measures are applied to the database. There are over 9,000 properties in the database and the various statistical methods are used to determine and make sure that the evaluations are fair. The evaluations are compared against actual market sales and also compared to make sure there’s no bias against low-valued properties or against high-valued properties but that it’s fair across the board. There are a lot of statistical measures and I refer you to the 2022 Assessor’s Report that has a good description of all the statistical measures of fairness.
What are your qualifications?
On paper, I have degrees in Physics and Law. I have experience as a team leader at the Laboratory, I’ve been on the County Council and been chair of the County Council and the vice chair and have a lot of leadership experience. I think those are the things that qualify me.