By JESSE BURKHARDT
Two citizens unhappy with their property tax bills have decided to launch a recall effort against Klickitat County Assessor Van Vandenberg.
White Salmon residents Richard Lyons and Garique Clifford are leading the move to recall Vandenberg.
Lyons and Clifford were among a number of area residents who appealed the 2008 revaluations of their property, contending the values were assessed at a higher rate than they believed was justified. Both men subsequently prevailed before the Board of Equalization, which reduced their property valuations.
However, after their successful appeals, Lyons and Clifford learned that the decisions of the Board of Equalization were being appealed by the Klickitat County Assessor's Office.
Lyons said that move infuriated him. He pointed out that it was the Assessor's Office that advised him to appeal if he believed his revaluation was unfair.
"The whole crux of this issue for me is that I did what the Assessor's Office told me to do," Lyons explained. "I received a letter from the Assessor's Office last summer that said, `if you don't like your tax assessment, you have a right to challenge it to the Board of Equalization, but the Board may or may not reduce your taxes.' I appealed my revaluation, did my research, brought comps, and I won; the Board of Equalization lowered my taxes. But now the Assessor's Office is telling us the Board had no right to do that. That's the part that bothers me."
Lyons also complained about what he characterized as "strong-arm tactics and bullying" from the Assessor's Office.
"This is our way of protesting what they are doing," Lyons said. "They can stop this really easily if they withdraw their appeals. We want to make it perfectly clear that we are not willing to let this stand."
Mike McBride, chief appraiser, rejected Lyons' characterization of how the Assessor's Office operated.
"We go out of our way to help taxpayers," McBride explained. "We've posted sales on our Web site. We have a system for citizens to come in and look things up and supply a place for them to do their research. We do that for all the taxpayers. We try to work with them. I wouldn't call that strong-arm tactics."
McBride added that the recession is what makes the property valuations seem so out of whack -- and not anything unfair in the way the Assessor's Office is working.
"It's not our timing, it's the timing of the recession. We had nothing to do with that. We're on our regular schedule," McBride said.
To get the recall on the ballot, organizers of the petition drive need to have signatures from 60 percent of the voters who voted in the last election for Assessor.
"We know it's an uphill battle. It's different from the recall of [White Salmon Mayor] Roger Holen. They only needed 60 percent of the votes in White Salmon; we need 60 percent of the county," Lyons said. "We are reading the details of what we have to do, and will begin drafting the recall petition this week."
State law (RCW 29A.56.110) explains the recall process this way: "Whenever any legal voter of the state or of any political subdivision thereof ... desires to demand the recall and discharge of any elective public officer ... the voter shall prepare a typewritten charge, reciting that such officer ... has committed an act or acts of malfeasance, or an act or acts of misfeasance while in office, or has violated the oath of office, or has been guilty of any two or more of the acts specified in the Constitution as grounds for recall. The charge shall state the act or acts complained of in concise language ..."
The two categories under which recall can be initiated include: "Any wrongful conduct that affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty"; and "the neglect or knowing failure by an elective public officer to perform faithfully a duty imposed by law."
Lyons said there were several issues behind the move to recall Vandenberg.
"First, he said everybody's property values would go up, but because of the formula, the taxes would not go up as much. That was not true," Lyons said. "Then he said if you don't like your revaluation, go to the Board of Equalization and they will adjust it if necessary. That was not true. Then Vandenberg said he was totally unaware of anyone's taxes going up more than $400. At this point, he's either not telling the truth or he sincerely doesn't know. And if he doesn't know, that's a problem."
Although not connected with the recall effort, White Salmon resident Mark Peppel said he was among those unhappy with his revaluation and planned on supporting the recall.
"Everybody you talk to feels like we were unjustly treated and something should be done," Peppel said. "Appealing the appeals doesn't seem ethical. We're going to go through hard enough times, let alone tacking this on. You could drive people into foreclosure with this kind of stuff."
Lyons said that even if the recall doesn't work, they want to get Vandenberg's attention.
"We're still trying to let the Assessor know this is wrong," Lyons said. "At a time when housing prices are bottoming out, it seems like a strange time to go after the little guy."
Vandenberg was elected to a four-year term in 2006. The Assessor's position is scheduled to next be on the ballot in 2010.
McBride said he believes the recall effort against Vandenberg is misguided.
"It's not fair to Van -- he's doing his job," McBride said.
Vandenberg did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the recall effort.