by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
King County Assessor candidate Lloyd Hara may be well-known to voters, but the office he's running for is less so.
'Assessor is not exactly a high-profile office,' he chuckles.
Nevertheless, it's an office that impacts every resident of the county. 'Even renters,' Hara notes. 'Valuation determines the tax rate of the building, and that's reflected back into the rents you pay.'
If elected, Hara would direct a staff of 200 employees, assess some 680,000 parcels of property, and control a $20 million budget.
A tireless campaigner, Hara has run for - and won - many public offices in his career. He has been County Auditor, Seattle City Treasurer, and Seattle Port Commissioner. He also served the Clinton administration as Regional FEMA Director.
Following the resignation of Assessor Scott Noble after a felony drunk driving conviction, and the sudden stroke of the front-runner to succeed Noble, Deputy Assessor Rich Medved, Hara decided to leave the Port and enter the race.
Most of Hara's past service has been in administrative offices, executing rather than making public policy.
Asked if he ever had a desire to run for a policy-making office - Seattle City Council, for example - Hara replies, "The [Port] Commission is primarily policy side & but I think my personal strengths are on the administrative side. I take a lot of personal satisfaction in running the best office. An honest and efficient office."
While he likes to run an office, Hara says he doesn't plan to sit around in the office. "The Assessor should be out with the people," he says. "I like citizen contact. I like to get it firsthand."
Hara's website promises to "instill a customer service culture" in the Assessor's department. Asked if people will ever come to associate taxation and customer service, Hara laughs.
"[In] customer service," he says, "you have to treat citizens with respect, provide them with all the necessary information so people can see their property has been fairly assessed. People need to feel they've had a fair assessment."
"I'd like see the field people get out, move to neighborhood offices," Hara adds. "Now they're centralized in two locations. We could share space with other County facilities, so we could be more accessible to the taxpayer."
Hara notes that the Assessor's office has seen a 400% increase in tax appeals this year. "People who are unhappy with their 2009 valuations," he says.
"A lot can be attributed to the [real estate] market," Hara explains. "When prices are going up, people are not as eager to get into the appeals process. And one out of 20 people are out of work. Even the ones who are working are asking, 'am I next?'"
While Hara cautions that, as Assessor, he would not be making tax law, he is critical of the existing tax structure.
"I am concerned with the way the current system operates," he says. "It's not working well. People need services, but the system does not provide an easy means to have a stable budget."
"The system can't take the dislocation we're seeing," he continues. "It's very, very difficult on people. We need a more balanced cash flow."
Hara believes that public education is part of the assessor's job, and will help to alleviate the public's discontent with their property taxes.
"You have to make sure taxpayers do, in fact, understand what their taxes go for," he says. "People feel better if they understand what property taxes go for. They also want to know they're paying their fair share and not a penny more."
Hara tells SGN he has tried to run a positive campaign, but his website accuses opponent Bob Rosenberger of trying to buy the election. According to Hara, Rosenberger "donated a massive amount of his own money to his campaign, nearly $60,000. This makes nearly $100,000 he's injected into his campaign total."
"It's one's right, if you have the money to do that," Hara tells SGN. "It's unfortunate it's come down to that. My campaign is grassroots, and I'm proud of that. I have 500-plus contributors. I'm happy to get the $25 contributions."
Rosenberger has declined to comment on this issue.
Hara has accumulated a wide-ranging list of endorsers, from the business-oriented Alki Foundation, to the Inland Boatmen's Union, to lefty newspaper Eat the State, to SEAMEC.
"People have found me to be straightforward and honest," he says, "and people appreciate that. I've also been a champion for those less fortunate. I've tried to be a voice for those who are discriminated against."
He tells SGN he is particularly pleased by his SEAMEC endorsement. The father of a Lesbian daughter, he recalls with pride giving her away at her wedding.
"You love your children," he says. "She asked me to give her away and of course I did. I was happy to. Referendum 71 - absolutely! It needs to be passed so we can move on."
In 2007, Hara - as a Port Commissioner - was instrumental in negotiating an agreement with the Teamsters union that resulted in health, vision, and dental insurance benefits for same-sex domestic partners of unionized Port employees.
"I appreciate the support of the LGBT community," Hara told SGN. "I'm concerned with equal rights for everyone, and that shows through my past record."
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