Pierce County Council members were ready to hand Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam more money Tuesday, but Washam said he didn’t need it.
A proposed $20,000 in emergency funding went back to county reserves after Washam’s unexpected appearance at the council’s afternoon meeting.
“We did not ask for it, we do not need it and at no point in time was the work not going to get done,” Washam told council members.
Reflecting on the meeting Tuesday, chairwoman Joyce McDonald, said, “Dale acted when he spoke like he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.”
The fuss revolved around earlier statements from Washam that his office couldn’t complete inspections of new construction in time to meet a state-mandated deadline of July 31.
Washam referred to “a hullaballoo about that, that is just absolutely absurd, because we’re right on target with it.”
The council had reacted to a June 14 memo from Washam to the county’s Budget and Finance Division, stating that his office would be unable to complete new construction inspections by the deadline.
A June 13 internal memo from Washam’s office ordered property appraisers to stop inspecting new construction on July 1.
Washam also spoke to budget and finance chief Gary Robinson in late June, and said his office would need $140,000 to $160,000 to complete new construction inspections this year.
Those statements prompted county prosecutors to file a writ of mandate, scheduled for argument Thursday in Superior Court, that would order Washam to complete this year’s new construction inspections in accordance with state law.
The state Department of Revenue also weighed in with a separate letter, ordering Washam to complete this year’s inspections.
At Tuesday’s County Council meeting, Washam said the “hullaballoo” was groundless. He praised his staff members and said they are on target to complete all of this year’s new construction inspections – a process that provides additional annual revenue to local governments each year.
“We have never requested additional funds to complete this year’s new construction,” Washam told council members. “Any discussion about additional funds was centered around the 2013 budget and had nothing to do with the 2012 budget.”
Washam also handed out charts that underscored his contention, saying the agency’s staff “has been performing its duties far more efficiently than at any time in its recent history.”
State law requires county assessors to complete new construction inspections each year, as well as physical inspections of existing properties. The latter is Washam’s signature issue. He believes past inspections were tainted by his predecessor’s use of computer models, and he has pushed his staff to correct all past appraisals,
Washam said his staff members completed that work with a lower budget and fewer employees. He said state law creates a conflict between the mandate to perform physical inspections and the mandate to capture new construction. That conflict warranted correction in the future, he said.
If the county wanted to spend money, Washam said, council members could give it to other departments.
“We simply don’t want it,” he said. “We don’t need it. There are departments that are hurting more: law enforcement, emergency unit – give it to them.”
Washam’s chief deputy, Albert Ugas, also spoke, and complained about “manipulation of the electoral process.” Washam is running for re-election, and faces four challengers on the Aug. 7 primary ballot.
Councilman Roger Bush interrupted Ugas and told him to stick to the subject of the proposed $20,000.
Ugas said “the lament over new construction has no instance in fact,” and called it “an insincere that is being fabricated to suit political purposes.”
Council members were happy to keep the money. They voted unanimously to withdraw the proposal.
“I just heard the assessor-treasurer and the deputy say they don’t need it,” Bush said. “I heard them say they would get the job done this year in the time that we need.”
Washam thanked the council for the vote.
“I take full respect that this council was trying to do something good,” he said. “As assessor-treasurer, we’re trying to do the same thing. We truly don’t need it. This is a time of restraint and we all should be concerned about saving.”