Our View: Don Gaekle is the clear choice for Stanislaus County assessor

April 19, 2014 

  • From the Ed Board

    The Bee invited both assessor candidates to meet with our editorial board of Editor Joe Kieta, Opinions Page Editor Mike Dunbar and visiting editors Carol Miller, Mani Grewal and Thomas Reeves. Here are excerpts from their responses:

    •  What would you change about how the assessor’s office operates?

    Bublak: I’d make it more transparent. I’d like to go out and seek the public’s opinion.

    Gaekle: One of the things I’ve started doing is to make our final push to making our appraisals electronic, commercial and farm. It saves time and paper.

    •  What are the dangers to Proposition 13?

    Gaekle: We follow the rules, as do all assessors. The only danger would be to not follow the law.

    Bublak: I want to make certain from an official standpoint that people are applying it correctly.

Don Gaekle is the clear choice for Stanislaus County assessor, no matter what criteria you use to choose a candidate.

Experience: 27 years

Knowledge of the job: Advanced assessor certification

Administrative skills: Manages staff of 54

Professional and political endorsements: Endorsed by last three assessors

Though we recognize Amy Bublak’s service as a Turlock city councilwoman and Modesto police officer, it is clear she is not equipped to be the county assessor.

The assessor’s job is to gather data from sales transactions, bank records and even sales receipts, then assign a value to every property in the county. Those values are sent to the auditor, who sends them to the tax collector. It’s a complicated three-way dance, and if one partner is out of step the entire process can fall into disarray, creating backlogs and needless costs. The job demands impartiality and knowledge of properties, processes and procedures.

Assessing a residential property is relatively easy. But pegging the worth of commercial property requires understanding and following complicated formulas. That’s the hard part. So hard, in fact, that not every assessor can do it. All assessors must be certified by the state.

Anyone elected assessor has a year to pass the first certification, which isn’t difficult. A second, advanced certification requires hundreds of hours of coursework and testing. Not everyone passes. Gaekle achieved the highest certification from the Board of Equalization; Bublak does not have any certification.

Gaekle has spent 27 years working his way up, becoming the head of the commercial assessment division under Dave Cogdill Sr. When Cogdill left to become CEO of the California Building Industry Association, he recommended Gaekle be appointed assessor and the Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed. Gaekle has also been endorsed by former assessors Doug Harms and Mike DeFerrari.

Gaekle and Bublak sat down with The Modesto Bee’s editorial board recently and we asked, among other things, about Payment In Lieu Of (property) Tax. PILOT programs allow cities to charge builders of low-income housing a fee, then exempt them from property taxes. That encourages low-income housing, but only the city collects any funds – which strikes some as unfair. Ventura County’s assessor has sued to eliminate PILOT programs. That would be fairer for taxpayers, says Gaekle, but it also would discourage building low-income housing.

Gaekle says he is taking a “wait-and-see” approach to the hottest controversy among the state’s assessors. Bublak wasn’t aware of the controversy or the program.

Bublak’s main campaign message is that she wants to protect Proposition 13. But assessors don’t make or protect laws, they only follow them. Gaekle knows how and has been doing just that.

Bublak says she wants to put a face on the assessor’s office. She’s a likable candidate and probably will poll well in Turlock, where she’s been elected to the City Council twice. But the role of assessor is different. Anyone can be elected, but not everyone can do the job.

Don Gaekle can do the job better than his opponent.

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