The Youth Radio Project interviewed Lane County Assessor candidate Mary Vuksich-Shafer.
[00:00:07] Jenah’Eve Hartman: You want to tell us about yourself and why you’re running?
[00:00:09] Mary Vuksich-Shafer: I’m running for office because I’m third-generation Lane County. I love this county. My grandfather was a teacher at Springfield High School, Don Kalstad, and my grandmother Gladys Kalstad was a nurse at McKenzie Willamette Hospital. I was born at McKenzie Willamette and I grew up falling in love with properties in this county.
[00:00:27] My mother Anita Vuksich was a realtor for 25 years, and she really instilled the love of properties and the vastness of this county in me as a child. You know, this is long before Zillow, she would scout properties for clients, host open houses. So I would go with her on Saturdays to scout properties and on Sundays we would host open houses. And so that sort of started my love and my adoration for this county and the land and the diversity in this county. And I went to Oregon State and I returned to Lane County to Eugene.
[00:01:07] I worked for a short time in social services. I got some supervisory leadership experience there. And then I went to work for a real estate company and then a title and escrow company. And then in 2005, I was hired at Lane County Assessment and Taxation.
[00:01:26] What some people don’t know about Lane County Assessment and Taxation is we’re made up of two divisions and one division is the collection and distribution of the tax. And the other is the appraisal side. I worked for 11 years in the property tax management, so, the collection and distribution of the monies to the 85 taxing districts that we serve.
[00:01:47] And in 2016, I wanted to see the county with boots on the ground. So I got my license to be an appraiser, a registered appraiser with the state of Oregon, and I started doing residential appraisal and then I promoted into commercial appraisal. And then I started doing appeals exemptions. So I’ve really seen the whole department and I have a very knowledgeable perspective. I have a very vast perspective of how we assess property, collect tax, and distribute to the taxing districts.
[00:02:25] Jenah’Eve Hartman: What is the most important issue facing the county assessor in the coming term?
[00:02:30] Mary Vuksich-Shafer: Thank you, Jenah. I think securing state funding for assessment offices statewide, that’s a very broad issue, but that’s been an ongoing issue for all assessment offices statewide maintaining up-to-date property records.
[00:02:44] And we have an outdated computer system. Essentially we have a database that was designed in the early 1990s. And if we know anything about technology, whenever there’s an upgrade every month or two, the last version is out of date. Your iPhone 6 is not working anymore. We are working on pretty much with a dinosaur database and it’s going to take a lot of resources, not just money, but people who know how to implement a new database, that we can have a swift and smooth rollover of information. We don’t want to mess around with your money when there’s taxing districts waiting for the distribution. So that needs to be a seamless, smooth transition. So that is very important.
[00:03:34] And lastly, I think, a lot of people right now understand that there’s this ‘Great Resignation’ that so many people are working from home and people are moving and they’re leaving jobs that they were out for a long time. So I think finding qualified applicants to fill some of our open positions and training and onboarding, keeping those people: How do we meet their needs while we can still administer our duties and it’s functional?
[00:04:02] Jenah’Eve Hartman: If you’re elected, what would you do differently than your opponent ?
[00:04:08] Mary Vuksich-Shafer: I can’t speak to what I would do differently. What I know is what I will do, and I’m committed to serving the citizens of Lane County. I’m a homeowner, I’m a property taxpayer. And I understand that property taxes and people’s homes and their businesses are very personal. And I take that very seriously. And I hold everyone around me that works with me to that same high standard. These are our customers and we treat them as such. We give them fair, accurate information. It’s sometimes information that doesn’t really sit well with people, but at least we’re giving them the full story.
[00:04:50] And we’re saying, here’s your rights. You do have rights. Here’s what they are. If there’s a program that they could qualify for, we figure out if they can apply for and qualify for a senior deferral program or a surviving veteran exemption or the surviving spouse of a veteran. A lot of people don’t realize that these programs are available at the state level and we administer them at the county level.
[00:05:12] And when I say they’re available at the state level, what I mean by that is, the state makes the rule and we implement it. Things like that: How can we help and empower our taxpayers so that they don’t feel like victims of the system, that they feel like they have a buy-in and that they’re proud of it, because this is a fantastic county. And I believe that, and I want all the taxpayers who live here to know that.
[00:05:37] Jenah’Eve Hartman: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the voters?
[00:05:40] Mary Vuksich-Shafer: Thank you for asking that. I’ve been asked a few times, ‘I don’t understand what the assessor does. What does the assessor do?’ The charge of the assessor is to assess and collect and distribute money to taxing districts. And Lane County has 85 taxing districts and the taxing districts are schools, fire, ambulance, libraries, rural fire protection districts, Lane Community College, City of Creswell, Cottage Grove, Oak Ridge, Florence, water districts…
[00:06:07] So we collect this money and then we distribute it. And it’s a very, very important service in our community. And it’s one that I really hope the taxpayers vote me for their assessor because I will help carry on that function of the county. I will take care of your tax payments. I have the endorsement of the former assessor, Annette Spickard, and I have the endorsement of the current assessor, Mike Cowles. I will ensure those payments get in to the districts.
[00:06:36] It’s one thing to have experience in appraisal, and it’s another thing to have experience in accounting. And it’s another thing to have experience in the property tax management side. I have all three and I have leadership and management experience. Those factors coupled together is just going to make the continuity of our service to our taxing districts so smooth.
[00:06:58] You’ll be in good hands. You can find me VoteMary4Assessor.com and that’s where people can make contributions to my campaign.
[00:07:07] John Q: The Youth Radio Project interviews local candidates who will be on the ballot on May 17.