TWIN FALLS — Four candidates vying for Twin Falls County Assessor fielded questions Thursday about their qualifications for the position, as well as their willingness to address problems in the department.
Twin Falls County Farm Bureau hosted the forum as part of its devotion to farmers’ rights, explained moderator Tom Billington, a Republican precinct chairman.
The Twin Falls Republican Central Committee will recommend three candidates to the County Commissioners, from which one will be chosen to replace longtime Assessor Gerald Bowden, who announced his retirement in October, a year before his most recent term ends.
Brad Wills, 62, owner of Wills Construction, said he would put his own business aside be the assessor. Wills has a background in land development, is heavily involved with the community and is on multiple boards.
“I think I have the most management experience here,” Wills said.
George Haney, 72, has been interested in the assessor position for years. As a problem solver, Haney said, he would “turn the assessor’s office around.”
When listening to the candidates, “don’t be fooled by smoke and mirrors,” Haney said.
John Knapple, 61, is deputy assessor and supervisor of the appraisal department in the assessor’s office.
“By law, property must be assessed at market value,” Knapple said. “The assessor’s office has no control of what the market does — we can only follow state guidelines to make sure property values are fair and equitable.”
Erick Mikesell, 67, is a Twin Falls accountant who said, if chosen, he would treat property owners as his clients to save them money. His first item of business would be to perform an internal audit of the assessor’s office.
“Numbers don’t lie,” Mikesell said.
Several candidates pointed out the complexity of the formulas used by the assessor’s office to place a value on farm ground, and the many of the factors involved are arbitrary and irrelevant. Some property owners are being taxed based on higher priced crops that they don’t grow.
“The assessor’s office is in the process of putting together better information” to use in the formula, Knapple said.
Knapple said one of the problems is that the questionnaire that farmers fill out to determine the value of their land doesn’t ask the right questions.
“The questionnaire needs to be reworked for accuracy,” he said.
In the end, all the candidates agreed that the goal of the assessor’s office is equitable taxes, to which there was no argument.