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Washam issues new report on skipped property inspections

Post by David Wickert on Sep. 4, 2009 at 10:51 am with 22 Comments »
September 9, 2009 11:36 am

Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam has released a new

Dale Washam
Dale Washam

account of skipped property inspections under his predecessor.

In a report released on his web site Wednesday, Washam said the office skipped hundreds of thousands of property inspections required by state law from 2001 and 2008.

The report concludes that under former Assessor Treasurer Ken Madsen the office falsified inspection records for 188,671 properties. And it states the office submitted false progress reports to the state Department of Revenue and false workload reports to the county budget and finance office.

Washam, who has tried and failed to convince state and local officials to investigate the issue, again called for further scrutiny.

“I would ask those officials to read this investigative report and take action in the name of Pierce County taxpayers,” Washam said in the report.

The report is the latest word on an issue that has dogged the assessor-treasurer’s office for years.

Local property assessors rely largely on statistical methods to calculate property values for tax purposes. They consider the location and characteristics of the home, sales of comparable properties and other factors.

But state law requires local assessors to physically inspect ever property at least once every six years. At a minimum, that means an exterior observation of the property to see if there have been any significant changes.

The inspections help appraisers discover improvements or deterioration that affect property values. The inspections also allow them to update property descriptions used in the statistical methods that determine values in other years.

For years Washam, a perennial candidate for public office, has claimed the assessor-treasurer’s office skipped required property inspections. He made the claim in an unsuccessful recall petition he brought against Madsen in 2005.

Washam won election to the post last November. And in March, after consulting his staff, he announced his longtime suspicions were true: the county had skipped required physical inspections for years.

Madsen admitted earlier this year his office had used statistical methods to revalue properties due for physical inspections, though he maintained the practice did not violate state law. State officials disagreed. Madsen could not be reached for comment this week.

The consequences of the skipped inspections are disputed. Washam’s new report claims the problem was so widespread as to call into question the assessments of every property in the county.

But a report by the County Council’s performance audit staff concluded there is no reason to believe property owners were harmed because of the skipped inspections. The report found that if there was any impact it was to Pierce County, which might have collected less in property taxes from the owners of properties where significant improvements were missed.

Washam has asked representatives of three state agencies and the local prosecuting attorney’s office to investigate the skipped inspections and falsified public documents. Each has declined. The state Department of Revenue has said it wants to work with Washam to ensure the inspections are done from now on.

Washam’s office has completed the 43,533 residential property inspections due this year, plus an additional 4,674 inspections that were skipped last year.

Leave a comment Comments → 22
  1. How many total properties are there to inspect?

  2. I don’t understand why Rob McKenna’s office thinks they don’t have jurisdiction over this matter. It’s a state law, right.

    Ken Madsen needs to be punished! And what about the officials at the other agencies.

    Washam needs to keep his religion out government. But I do have to give him credit for following the law with respect to these inspections.

  3. davidwickert says:

    Qwerty, the assessor’s office mailed valuation notices to the owners of 302,119 parcels in July. That number changes over time as properties are subdivided, etc., , but it will give you a sense of how many parcels there are in the county.

  4. bigmeatgrinder says:

    Why doesn’t our newly crowned County Exec. step up with a comment here?
    Maybe she’s too busy trying to rig the next election…….
    As a fearless reporter Wickert, shouldn’t she be on your list of interviewee’s?

  5. 302,119 divided by 6 = 50,353.166 to inspect per year. Why are only 43,533 required per year by Washam? He’ll be behind, too. Many of us have had our property inspected every 6 years, yet the information the inspector had wasn’t up to date, either. Thought that was kind of fishy.

  6. PS Thank you for the answer to my question. I appreciate that.

  7. davidwickert says:

    Qwerty, I believe the 43,533 figure cited in the report is for residential inspections only. As I read it, they completed the scheduled 43,533 residential properties. the figure I gave you – 302,119 – includes both residential and commercial properties. Washam says they’re caught up on this year’s inspections. I don’t have any evidence to the contrary.

  8. davidwickert says:

    Bigmeatgrinder, When this came to light last spring I asked the executive’s office for comment, and they declined. I can’t speak for them. I will note that Pat McCarthy has no direct control over the assessor’s office. Dale Washam is independently elected (as was Madsen). She’s not his boss. She also isn’t the boss of the elected prosecuting attorney Gerald Horne, who declined to investigate. If you have specific questions you’d like me to ask, let me know. You could also ask her yourself. She works for you.

  9. davidbritton says:

    A few questions:

    Has anyone asked the State Auditor’s Office what they think of all this? Isn’t this kind of thing in their jurisdiction?

    How much taxpayer money has Washam spent on this second report, which sounds quite a bit like the first report?

    How much more is it going to cost, US, to do actual physical inspections of every single property, as opposed to the cost of the way Madsen was doing it?

  10. davidwickert says:

    Davidbritton, good questions. I can answer at least one: the state auditor’s office is one of three state agencies (including the Department of Revenue and the attorney general’s office) that have declined Washam’s request for a full investigation. I believe the auditor sent folks here to interview at least one person, but that’s it.

    I don’t know how much the report has cost. I’ll ask.

    As for the cost, Washam says he’s done the inspections that were scheduled this year, and at a time when his budget is being cut. That tells me there hasn’t been any additional cost, but I’d want to confirm that. If that’s the case, my question is for Madsen: why couldn’t you do it with the resources you had when Washam can? And what were your appraisers doing if they weren’t inspecting properties?

  11. edmundburke says:

    Pierce County went through a tremendous housing boom and billions of dollars were added to the tax rolls. The assessors added that new construction. Perhaps the reason they could inspect all those properties this year was because of the economic slow down in housing. Have any of you heard about that? Most people covering Pierce County know that the number of building permits issued in every jursidiction in the County has sharply declined. Since the building permits were down, the assessors could spend more time inspecting existing homes. Maybe the area the assessors were working in this year had something to do with. All areas of the county are not the same. Maybe the multi-year data conversion to the computer appraisal system has been completed? Maybe it was because of the area of the county the assessors were working in. It was not because the assessors were not out inspecting properties.

  12. reformedliberal says:

    I’d say the reason county officials don’t want to investigate is pretty obvious: it’s not out of the question that the county could owe hundreds of millions in refunds. They don’t want to open that can of worms because it could threaten their bread and butter.

    Sounds to me like the prosecutor is involved in racketeering.

  13. The computer technology available now (e.g. inspectors’ laptops with records of parcels, maps, building plans, etc…) has undoubtedly streamlined the process.

  14. fatuous says:

    Reformedliberal, what refunds are you referring to?

    I don’t understand your statement stating the prosecutor is involved in racketeering.

  15. sunup500 says:

    In the mid 1990’s I called the assessors office and asked why my taxes were always adjusted in the south end of Tacoma, but others in the north end were not getting the same adjustments. I was flatly told that because the military personnel were purchasing homes in the south end, and also selling more in the same area, the county neede to adjust taxes due to the rise in sales and values. The north end tended to have less sales, so therefore lttle adjustment was made. Does’ that sound logical? Does that sound like any effort was made to inspect and adjust? Does that sound fair? A refund IS due to many homeowners. Maybe a class action suit is the solution. Failing to investigate the matter only fuels speculation of corruption. The fact that when a politician is elected out of office, and finds his way into another chair at public expense due to cronyism, doesn’t help either. it perpetuates poor government.

  16. Hannah98 says:

    The prosecutor, Gerald Horne and his predecessor, John Ladenburg, are involved in racketeering because among other things, they are in violation of all matter of law and our Constitution, as they unlawfully defend government criminals, (protect them), instead of prosecuting them.

  17. WestBayGuy says:

    I can give some small insight, having had access to County offices during this time. No, the County Executive and County Council have no direct power to tell the Assessor-Treasurer how to conduct business within the department. They do exert substantial control in other ways though, through the budget.

    During the time that Madsen is accused of falsifying records he was very strident about not receiving enough funding to do the office’s work. I was present in some ‘back room’ meetings during this time period, and he was very vocal about lack of funding for his office.

    Before you accuse the Executive/Council though, consider that the voters exercise the same control via the Eyman initiatives during the 1990’s. There truly isn’t enough money to do everything that’s worthwhile or even legally mandated up there right now.

  18. colsprague says:

    Seems to me that Mr. Washam is more interested in retribution than in the needs of Pierce County taxpayers. What, exactly, would be accomplished by the investigation he keeps asking for — other than great expense to the taxpayers? Let it go. The previous assessor apparently didn’t do his job. It’s done. You won the election, Mr. Washam. Let’s move on.

    This reminds me of the nutjobs trying to get someone to prosecute Bush/Cheney. It’s over. Nothing will be gained ther, either.

  19. yesican says:

    Mr. Richard Dale Washam has failed to certify the assessment roll by May 31st and failed to inspect all building permits within one year of issuance, both of which violate state law.

    He has been found to have retalliated against his Chief Appraiser and in the process, he and his assistant (Gretchen Borck) violated the Pierce County Administrative Guideline by refusing to cooperate with the investigation against him on discrimination and retalliation. Now he comes forward with his 325 page “Investigative Report” documenting that Physical Inspections were not done. This report, one can only assume was compiled on taxpayer time using taxpayer resources. The same physical inspections, or lack of them, that he has already reported to every authority in the state, and the same inspections he used in his failed attempt to recall Ken Madsen.

    While breaking the law himself, he keeps obsessing over the faults of his predecessor and retalliating against his employees.

    He is the master of hypocracy at budget hearings by stating he will lay off appraisers, while he doesn’t have enough appraisers to get the job done. And all this in only 8 months.

    Is anyone going to file for his recall?

  20. chip98404 says:

    Let’s see….43,500 / 365 days / 24 hours = 5 inspections per hour if they do it every day of the year, every hour of the day. That is one inspection every 12 minutes, no counting travel time, etc. How many inspectors do they have anyway?

  21. davidwickert says:

    Davidbritton, you asked how much this investigation cost taxpayers. I asked Washam, and here’s the response I got from his assistant, Gretchen Borck:

    “The Investigative Report and the issues addressed therein, are an integral part of the responsible management of the affairs of the Assessor-Treasurer’s office. There were no extra costs. “

  22. edmundburke says:

    Mr. Wickert, Did you find Gretchen Borck’s satisfactory? This report wasn’t compiled by volunteers. People paid by Pierce County compiled it using Pierce County equipment, and resources. It was paid for by the taxpayers of Pierce County. Computer time was used, scanning, copying, paper, etc. If a taxpayer asked for the information used in this report, it would be very costly. No extra cost?? Yes it was extra cost to all of us. Any yes, it is pretty much the same information he had already published on the website.

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