Candidates state their goals for Assessor of Property's office

The three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the Carter County Assessor of Property's office in the county primary on Feb. 10 were asked about their ideas and goals in becoming the county's next assessor.
   1. Why are you seeking the Republican nomination for the Assessor of Property's Office?
   George Fortner: Serving in a public office has always been of interest to me. I think it would truly be an honor and a privilege to serve as a representative for the people of Carter County. I have spent my professional career around the home-building industry. The Assessor of Property Office provides an opportunity to continue building on my professional experience while serving the citizens of Carter County at the same time. I look forward to learning about the assessment and appraisal aspect of both personal and business property. The honor of being elected Assessor of Property would give me the opportunity to give back to a community that has given me and my family so much -- I can't think of a better job.
   Gerald Holly: I have worked five years in the Assessor's Office, was appointed by the county commission as interim assessor and would like to continue serving the people of Carter County.
   Ted Weaver: Since becoming politically active in 1992, I have considered this office as a way of offering myself to serve my fellow citizens and contribute to my county and community through hard work, and fair and equal treatment of all taxpayers.
   2. What do you believe qualifies you for the Assessor of Property Office?
   Fortner: With over 25 years of experience in the home-building industry, I feel that I have a solid foundation of knowledge and skills that will help serve the citizens of Carter County as their Assessor of Property. I have dedicated my professional career to helping my fellow citizens with their home-building experience. From building their first home, their office, or remodeling a room in their house, I feel very grateful to have been there with my customers every step along the way.
   Holly: In addition to the experience I have working in the Assessor's Office I also was a realtor for six years.
   Weaver: Being a successful business operator and dealing with the public on a daily basis is a huge asset as well as serving on the County Commission for eight years and working on budgets for the county offices. Also, graduating from the Certified Public Administrators program through the University of Tennessee will be very helpful in qualifying me to operate this office efficiently.
   3. In your opinion, what makes an Assessor of Property successful in performing the job and accommodating the public?
   Fortner: The key to being successful as the Assessor of Property starts with knowledge -- knowledge of the office and knowledge of the duties and responsibilities of the Assessor of Property. There must also be a clear and thorough understanding of the appraisal and assessment functions. The Assessor of Property is a public servant -- an elected official there to serve the people of Carter County. Being available and accommodating to the citizens of Carter County has to be the number one priority of the next Assessor of Property. Someone's property, whether it is a home, business, or land, is undoubtedly one of his or her most prized possessions. For this reason, the value of their property is a very important issue. The Assessor of Property has to be available to answer any questions and hear the concerns of any citizen concerning his or her property. And although it may sound simple, an open door policy is the only way to achieve this. If elected, my door will always be open and I will be available to answer your questions, explain the appraisal process, listen to your concerns, and work with you to find solutions.
   Holly: I will perform the job in a courteous and accommodating manner.
   Weaver: To be informed of new regulations, changes in policies and procedures and having the knowledge and fortitude to implement them to the office. Also, to treat the taxpayers with respect and courtesy no matter their social standing.
   4. Have you been or are you planning to research the functions of the Assessor of Property between now and the primary?
   Fortner: Being a lifelong resident of Carter County and working in the home-building industry, I have been familiar with the Assessor of Property Office. It was not until I considered running for the Assessor of Property Office that I began to learn more about what the actual job entails. I have spoken at length to friends and colleagues who are familiar with the job. I have also reviewed the official Assessor of Property job description. While on the campaign trail, I have also been approached by fellow citizens asking questions about the office. This encouraged me to research and learn more about the position. For example, one person asked if I were elected, would I raise property taxes. The Assessor of Property only appraises and classifies property and has nothing to do with determining the tax rate. The County Commission and City determine the tax rate.
   Holly: I feel that my past and present position qualifies me for the assessor of property.
   Weaver: Serving on the commission committee oriented me to some of the problems which can arise in the office and gave me some idea of the assessor's duties. Although I have read and studied the functions of the office and duties of the assessor in the Tennessee County Handbook in my previous political endeavors, I realize there would be much hard work and learning to do about the daily operations.
   5. The next county reappraisal of property done in conjunction with the State of Tennessee will occur in 2006 -- what does this mean for the assessor of property's office and the county's property owners? (The state government requires cities and counties to reappraise all personal and commercial property to gather the property values and appreciation across the state.)
   Fortner: Re-appraisals are not a bad thing. The purpose of a re-appraisal is to ensure fairness for all property owners. Re-appraisals are in place to protect you as a property owner. As the real estate market continues to change, so does the value of your property. Re-appraisals are done periodically to appraise the value of your property with respect to the current real estate market. So what does this mean for you as a property owner? It means that your property will be appraised at the fair market value. This will ensure you are not paying too much or too little in property taxes. During re-appraisals, the value of the property is adjusted so that all property is appraised at fair market value.
   Holly: After the reappraisal is completed, I will work with the taxpayers to see that they have a fair assessment.
   Weaver: The next re-appraisal figures will become effective in 2006, which means the actual process will be done in 2005. It will take a minimum year's work, and due to a heavy reduction of staff within the state division of property tax office, the workload will be a lot heavier locally than in previous years. And to property owners, it brings each parcel of property in line to a fair market value, which is beneficial when refinancing or selling the property. Although, you will possibly have a slight increase in taxes during the re-appraisal process.
   6. A discrepancy in the county government's policy regarding travel expenses for an assessor of property office employee created controversy last year. If you win the county primary and the general election in August, how do you plan to work with the county mayor and finance director to ensure employee policies are being followed by you and the office's employees?
   Fortner: I think there are two keys to avoiding any type of discrepancy or misunderstanding -- education and communication. The first step would be educating myself and the other staff members in the Assessor of Property Office on the state regulations that govern those serving in public office. The second would be communication -- communication between the Assessor of Property staff and myself and communication between the Mayor, the County Fiscal Director and myself. If at any point there is a question about a regulation or policy, there has to be open communication in place so that answers are readily available. I would strive to create an office environment with open communication and work hard to build a relationship with the Mayor and Fiscal Director.
   Holly: I will ensure the office adheres to the policies of the county and laws of the state of Tennessee.
   Weaver: For me, a handbook with policy statements should be issued at the onset of employment with the opportunity provided for questions and feedback. In addition, most legitimate offices and businesses operate with purchase orders and completed travel expense sheets and receipts. The combination of these would be a checks and balances system to help in maintaining integrity in the office and would naturally cause the assessor's office to work in conjunction with the mayor and finance director.
   7. What changes, if any, would you make to the office in terms of operations and/or personnel if you win the primary and the general election?
   Fortner: I think one area that I would like to build on is education -- education on the function of the Assessor of Property office. It is important that the citizens of Carter County understand the property appraisal process as well as their rights as property owners. I would like to make this information readily available and easily accessible to the citizens of Carter County. This could be done by creating user-friendly pamphlets or flyers that describe the different functions of the Assessor of Property Office, the appraisal/re-appraisal process, important dates for the citizens of Carter County, frequently asked questions, etc. These materials could be made available in the Assess of Property Office and available to the public at all times. And this information could be made available online so that it is available 24 hours a day, seven day a week. The Assessor of Property Office is your office -- the office of the citizens of Carter County. My door will always be open to hear your concerns and to answer your questions.
   Holly: I will continually work and strive to upgrade the function of the Assessor of Property's Office.
   Weaver: I really don't want to be the armchair quarterback. I would appreciate being part of the team knowing my abilities, concern, dedication and determination. I would not second-guess what some of the people who have worked in the office for a time already know. And, furthermore, I do not believe that my lack of desiring immediate change should be seen as a weakness. A true leader empowers the people with whom he works and learns from some of their strengths and weaknesses to improve the office and the people he leads.