The incumbent Franklin County assessor will face a newcomer to the political arena in the Aug. 2 Republican primary.
Assessor Tom Copeland, who is completing his second four-year term, will square off with Rebecca (Wideman) Kissinger who has a background in real estate and property management.
The Missourian met with both candidates to discuss their backgrounds and the needs at the county assessor’s office.
The county assessor is a four-year term which begins in September, not January, due to state statute. There are no Democratic candidates, so the winner of the August primary will take office Sept. 1.
The assessor’s office tracks and assesses over 71,000 parcels totaling more than $1.336 billion in assessed value. This is the 13th highest assessed value in the state out of the 114 counties and the city of St. Louis.
Among other duties, the office biannually reassesses all real estate in Franklin County, which involves reviewing the data, updating data and new photographs if needed on an ongoing basis.
Following are comments from both candidates which are listed alphabetically.
The assessor was first elected in 2008 when five other candidates were vying for the office.
Prior to becoming assessor, Copeland owned Copeland Construction for 36 years.
“I want to continue what I have done working with the public and following the guidelines of the Missouri state tax commission,” he said.
Copeland explained that he has created an “open door policy” to provide transparency to taxpayers.
“We are available to the taxpayers and we have created a sound board and listening system,” he said.
He added that those policies have paid off.
In 2010 there were 182 taxpayers who appeared before the board of equalization, which hears assessment disputes, in 2016, there were just three.
“We created enough open transparency that only three applied for a hearing,” Copeland said.
“From 2010-16 we visited with a lot of folks and satisfied their concerns with their taxes,” he added. “And when the market took such a drastic hit that was reflected on property values, we adjusted and worked with people.”
Copeland credited his staff for running an efficient and transparent office.
“The staff of 16 people is the success of where we are as an assessor’s office,” he said.
Copeland noted that due to state cuts to assessor’s offices he was required to cut staff, but the office still was able to perform all necessary duties.
He also was behind the county contracting with Geospan Corporation to provide new, clearer aerial maps of property.
The Geospan mapping provides much more detailed photos, three pixels compared to previous photos of six pixels, that it will assist law enforcement officers, fire districts and other county departments.
“My goal is to have a computer program where putting in an address to a united data bank, and fire departments and the sheriff’s department will see exactly what they are pulling up to,” Copeland said.
That could include the dangers of a possible meth lab, or hidden buildings on a property. It also will benefit the planning and zoning emergency management.
According to Copeland, there frequently are changes to market values and state legislation.
“Financially it always is an uphill climb. There always are new challenges for assessors,” he said. “This office has really flexible people who are cross trained — they have really stepped it up.”
Copeland added that he would like to continue to have an open door policy for taxpayers.
“I will be available for the constituents when they need me,” he said. “If it means them coming here, or me going to review their properties.”
“I want to thank the people who have the confidence and trust in me for two terms,” Copeland further added. “I am asking for their support for another term.”
According to Kissinger, it is time for her to change careers and the assessor’s role is a fit for her experience.
“God was tugging at my heart to do something different and that I had outgrown the position I was in,” she said.
Kissinger had been managing hundreds of rental homes.
She added that she sees the assessor’s office as a way to give to the community.
“I want my kids to see what it is like to give back to the community,” she said. ”The assessor; falls in line with my experience — this seems like a good fit.”
Kissinger said she would like to improve communications at the assessor’s office.
“The echo that I am hearing is that the communication is not there,” she said.
Kissinger said school administrators were not given assessment information as soon as they would like in order to prepare their budgets.
She would meet “face to face” with school district administrators and ask, “What do you need? How can I help you.”
“I will make an effort to find an answer in the time frame that helps them,” Kissinger said. “I think there needs to be communication and transparency.”
“If I don’t know the answer I will find it,” she added. “I will begin that process with districts in February, not July.”
Kissinger explained that her experience in real estate provides insight into the assessor’s position.
“I have sold houses ranging from $500,000 to $600,000 to mobile homes,” she said. “That is a large spectrum of what things are worth.”
Kissinger said her customer service skills also would be a benefit to the assessor’s office.
“In situations where people are not happy, I will be empathetic and understanding,” she said. “That is the biggest thing I can bring.”
Kissinger said she would look into new technology for the assessor’s office.
“There is a need to embrace technically and I am not sure it is being embraced right now,” she said.
Kissinger also brings leadership skills to the table, she said,
“I have had up to eight staff members and I know what it means to be a good leader,” she said.
Kissinger noted that she would work with realtors to help determine economic trends and markets to prevent assessments from going up during a recession.
“We all want the same thing — a fair assessment of property,” she said. “If it is too high, taxpayers are not happy, and schools are not happy if there is not enough money. Then property values go down.
Kissinger said she will bring new energy to the assessor’s office.
“I have a fresh outlook and I will embrace technology,” she said.