Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam has released a new
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.