The history between challenger John Wilson and incumbent Lloyd Hara is making the typically dull race more contentious this year.
Two former co-workers are vying for King County assessor in a race that’s become, in part, about grappling with the area’s affordable-housing crisis.
The race for the position, which is responsible for determining property values for the area’s more than 660,000 residential and commercial parcels, is unusually contentious this election.
The two candidates — incumbent Lloyd Hara and challenger John Wilson — both have a hefty portfolio of endorsements and say the winner will need to work within skyrocketing housing costs and booming development.
Besides determining property values, which create the basis for tax bills and implementing voter-approved levies, the assessor is responsible for managing more than 200 employees and spearheading technology developments for accessing property data.
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Hara said while the assessor may advocate on issues such as affordable housing, he doesn’t believe that should be the primary focus of the office. “First and foremost, our principal job is to fairly and accurately appraise all property,” he said. “The key thing here is we want to make sure people can maintain their homes.”
Wilson said the office needs to play a more active role in combating the area’s affordable-housing crisis and push changes to address issues such as neighborhood density and preservation. He’s making plans, if elected, to offer additional tax breaks to property owners of existing affordable-rental units, at an added cost to other taxpayers, as part of a push for making housing more affordable.
“The office historically has been so obscure that the assessor has been able to function in the shadows,” Wilson said. “It isn’t good enough anymore to say, ‘I just run the numbers.’ ”
Hara, a former Port of Seattle commissioner and Seattle city treasurer, said his office has fought hard to ensure King County residents can afford their homes during his tenure. He prides himself on the number of seniors and veterans who have been enrolled in the state’s tax-exemption programs, and the creation of an online map portal with property data, called LocalScape.
Wilson served in Hara’s office as chief deputy assessor for nearly four years before leaving in 2013 after the two disagreed over the development of an iPad app for collecting field data. He’s held titles in many government and public-affairs jobs; he now works as a project manager in the county’s information-technology department.
Hara was first elected in 2009 and ran unopposed for the four-year assessor term in 2011. He succeeded Scott Noble, who resigned after driving drunk and causing a crash that injured him and two women.
The title comes with a salary of about $170,000 a year. Hara has raised more than $73,300 for his re-election bid so far this year, while Wilson has raised $50,020.