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BRIDGEPORT—It’s just a guess, but it’s doubtful that Mono County’s voters are sitting around the hot stove during this campaign season arguing the ins and outs of assessed valuations, possessory interests or appraisal appeals.
But both candidates for the Mono County Assessor say voters should at least carefully consider what is at stake in the June 3 election.
“To me,” said Bob Musil, 51, who occupies the office currently, “the race is very simple.
“It’s about who the assessor’s going to be and who’s going to be responsible for the assessment roll, which generates 70 percent of the money that the county has for the general fund.”
For Barry Beck, 50, who currently is a staff assessor and who has worked in the Assessor’s Office for 11 years, the race is equally as simple, at least on the surface.
“This is a tough time economically,” he said, “for both the town and the county, and we’re all looking for ways to do things less expensively and more efficiently, and that’s really what this race is about—how we can do the job in the most efficient and most cost-effective manner.”
The stakes go beyond abstract policy debates. The race is wonky as all get-out, laced with the kind of technical jargon that barely resembles English.
And yet of all the races up for grabs this spring, this one might have a longer-lasting effect than any of them.
Millions of dollars are on the table, in one way or another; over 17,000 parcels of property are in play; two huge players—Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and the ORMAT geothermal plant—are in the game; and all of it is playing out in an office Beck says has been described as “a black eye on the face of county services.”
Musil, also a longtime employee of the Mono County Assessor’s office, acknowledged the office’s historical dysfunction (six assessors since 2005), although he himself took the reins just last autumn as an appointment by the Board of Supervisors after the previous assessor left the office.
“On average, every year and half we’ve turned over the leadership of the office, and I think that’s been the biggest problem. I have very good people working for me and they work very hard to do a very good job, but there’s been no stability at the top.
“There’s been no comfort that the person and the policies in place are going to be there for a while.
“That’s the thing that has created the most problems and has led to the perceptions, at times justified, that this has been a ‘problem office.’
“I don’t think it’s a ‘problem office,’ and I think we’re getting everything back on track and we’re working in the office and working better with taxpayers and people outside the office, and we’re working on a much more cooperative basis with other county departments.
“I’m here all the time, I’m very accessible, I enjoy what I do and I enjoy talking about what I do, and I’d hope that people have a comfort level that there is competent leadership in the office, that the leadership is going to remain in place, and that the assessor’s office is going to continue moving forward.”
Leadership is one thing, Beck said, but efficiency is another, and in that regard, he said Musil is spending money needlessly and, moreover, is running an overstaffed team.
“I have a 24-point plan that I drew up over a year ago,” Beck said, “for ways to boost the output of and productivity of our office and decrease the cost to the taxpayers of the county for getting the work done that the Assessor’s office needs to get done.
“A couple of those items have been instituted since then, but it’s a long list, and there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
His list has to do with lost opportunities in harnessing effective software to run the office; hundreds of thousands of dollars thrown away in consulting and legal services associated with the pending assessment appeals associated with the ski area and ORMAT, along with inefficiencies in a variety of individual cases.
“We can do better,” Beck said, “and I’ve not seen an effort in this direction right now.”
Both of them conceded that their differences could have created a much more awkward situation than it already is.
Beck works a mere 30 feet away from Musil’s office. Both of them interviewed with the Board of Supervisors for the empty seat last year.
So far, both have played above-board politics.
At the time of Musil’s appointment, Beck said both he and Musil created an understanding that Beck was going to make a run for the job in this election cycle, and that nothing in his campaign would be personal.
As for Musil, he acknowledged the awkwardness, but was not willing to run a negative campaign against Beck.
“We agreed the most important thing is that we run a civil campaign based on our own strengths, and let the voters decide who they feel is the best candidate.
“I told him up front that as long as he worked hard and as long as he did his job, I’m not going to penalize him for running against me. I’ve seen other elected officials do that, and I don’t believe it’s right and I’m not going to do it.
“He’s more than held up his end of the deal. He’s worked as hard as anyone in this office, and has done a good job.”
With that, Musil turned his eye toward a thick folder on his desk, loaded with documents related to the ORMAT assessment appeal case.
Down the hall, Beck turned his eye toward something equally as fascinating—possessory interests, perhaps, or what tweaks to make to which software.
Juicy, juicy stuff.