New Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan already is receiving accolades, even though he’s only a few weeks into the job.
“They just say we’re glad you’re here,” he said of one-on-one meetings with office employees.
Lonergan spoke Thursday morning during the weekly Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Public Affairs Forum at Cottesmore of Life Care.
It’s not so much that Lonergan has had time to make any substantial changes so much as he’s not Dale Washam, whose contentious tenure included a recall effort against him that fell about a thousand votes short of qualifying for the November 2011 ballot.
Following six separate complaints, investigators found Washam retaliated against employees he didn’t agree with and used county resources for campaign purposes.
Pierce County paid out $1.5 million to settle claims made by past and current employees.
“I really want to change the spirit,” Lonergan said, noting he wants to restore public confidence in the office. “We need to work with them (property owners). I think that’s going to be fairly easy.”
Part of that process will include rebuilding relationships with other county assessors and treasurers eschewed by Washam, as well as the state Department of Revenue, Longergan said.
“Much of what we do in the assessor-treasurer’s office is based on state law,” said Lonergan, a former Tacoma City Council member who is currently the executive director of the Youth Marine Foundation and former director of the Tacoma Rescue Mission.
Lonergan said he decided not to fill the deputy assessor-treasurer position because he wants more direct contact with the people served by the office he now leads.
One person who has retained her position in the office is Administrative Manager Billie O’Brien, who also ran for the Assessor-Treasurer seat. She and Lonergan were the top two votegetters during the Aug. 7 primary and faced each other in November’s general election.
O’Brien will keep doing what she does, administering the treasurer’s side of the office, Lonergan said.
“So, it’s working great,” he said.
But challenges remain, especially during a time when the economy is sluggish.
Lonergan leads a team of 70 people who cover 300,000 residential properties and 30,000 commercial properties. That includes 40 inspectors — 20 for residential properties, 15 for commercial properties and five for statistical modeling.
There are seven unfilled positions at this time, he said.
“We’re right at the ragged edge,” Lonergan said. “We’re at the limit.”
That problem could be exacerbated by an older workforce, meaning lots of retirements in the future.
“We have a brain drain that is kind of going to happen over the next few years,” Lonergan said.
On the technical front, he said two of the office’s major computer systems need an upgrade or conversion to a new system.
Still, he remains determined to regain public trust by doing a good job when it comes to property valuation.
“I want to use this office to encourage the building of our tax base,” he said, explaining that an updated and accurate list of taxpayers would mean lower property taxes per individual. “This is, I think, a pretty full plate of things we need to do.”
Lonergan said he intends to grow in the job and keep track of the progress made by his office.
“I will measure the results we’re getting,” he said.
Property inspections, which take place on a six-year cycle, are currently being conducted in Lakewood and University Place, Lonergan said. Appraisers set to come to the peninsula area next year.
Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_brett.