Most Ada County residents probably don’t look forward to their yearly property tax assessment these days.
On May 17, four Republicans will be hoping to earn your vote to become the county’s next Assessor and lead the office in charge of analyzing sales data and other information to assess your property’s value and run the Ada County’s DMV responsible for vehicle registrations. While the Assessor doesn’t set the tax rate or tax policy at the state level, the office’s function plays a large role in what your eventual tax bill becomes.
This office’s role is defined in Idaho Code and requires the assessor’s office to determine the value of property as close to its actual market value as possible. County assessors don’t have the power to change Idaho’s tax system, set the overall budget for Ada County, or physically collect the taxes from property owners.
This crowded field hopes to replace retiring Republican Assessor Bob McQuade who served in the job for the last 28 years. In alphabetical order, here is a brief summary of each candidate and their aims if they are elected. There is no Democrat running in November’s general election, so the winner of this race will become the next assessor unless a write-in candidate emerged.
Rebecca Arnold is a familiar face to Ada County local government watchers.
She served four terms on the Ada County Highway Commission until she narrowly lost to Commissioner Alexis Pickering in 2020. Arnold also ran against Mayor Lauren Mclean for Boise Mayor in 2019, finishing in third place behind former Mayor Dave Bieter in the November election. She also ran for a seat on the bench as a judge in the Fourth Judicial District in 2014, but was bested in the November election by Samuel Hoagland.
Now, she’s hoping to take her experience as an accountant, an MBA, thirty-four years as an attorney largely involved in commercial and residential real estate law, and some past experience as a real estate agent to become the Ada County Assessor. Arnold said one of her primary goals is to ensure all of the sales information used to determine the value for a property is easily accessible to the public.
“It’s not online,” Arnold said. “You can do a public records request and get some information, but it’s not terribly easy to obtain it. The average person who looks at their assessment and says ‘wow, this seems really high’ doesn’t have the ability to really evaluate it. I think it’s important to have that information available to the public.”
She also suggested taking a deeper look at the assessor’s office budget to look for wasteful spending and introducing a new staggered shift schedule for DMV employees to expand hours without much extra cost to taxpayers. If elected, Arnold said she would like to lobby at the legislature for some reforms to Idaho’s tax system. This includes indexing the homeowner’s exemption instead of keeping it at $125,000 and possibly capping how much a property valuation can increase every year.
She also would like to see more legislation limiting how much local governments can hike property taxes, including revisiting if governments should be able to increase their budgets three percent annually or if that number should be lower. Arnold said the current system is “out of control” and it’s important for the state to cut local government spending as well as find new ways to fund essential services.
Arnold largely supports the changes made in the 2021 Idaho Legislative session to cap the amount of tax increases local governments can take to accommodate new growth at eight percent, but she thinks the system should be reformed so it’s not a “one-size-fits-all model” due to the wide range between the size of the City of Boise’s budget and rural Idaho communities. She would also like to see even more legislation to simplify what properties count toward new construction for taxing districts.
Making statewide change is a big focus for Bradley Bolicek.
Bolicek, a real estate agent with Silvercreek Realty and former executive with 40 years of experience, said if he is elected he hopes to use his position as the assessor in Idaho’s largest county to forge relationships with the Idaho Legislature to reform the property tax system. He said while McQuade was solely focused on implementing the law as it’s written, Bolicek said he hopes to push legislation at the statehouse completely restructuring how Idaho funds its’ services to end property taxes.
Bolicek earned the 2012 Republican nomination to run for the Idaho Legislature in House District 18B, but was bested by Democratic incumbent Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise.
He said one of the biggest problems with the property tax system is how unequal it is. Instead, he would like to move to a system called a user tax that relies on a hiked sales tax to pay for local government needs. He said this will eliminate the differences in tax bills for different residents, allows residents who have fallen on hard times to lower their tax bill by spending less and it would bring in more money from out-of-state visitors. Bolicek’s proposal would end property taxes for all properties, including rentals and second homes, not just homeowners.
Bolicek also supports eliminating Idaho’s grocery tax.
“If you look at property taxes, you could have two people living a quarter of a mile apart, and one person’s taxes are $5,000, and the other is $2,500,” he said. “They’re using the same roads, the same schools, the same everything. (The saying is what you pay for is what you get), but we all get the same thing even though some people are paying two or three times as much.”
This is a somewhat similar to a proposal from Sen Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, during the 2022 legislative session that was shelved. Rice’s bill would have increased the sales tax rate and in return eliminated nearly all property taxes on homeowners who live at their property, while keeping the tax on rentals and second homes. Opponents of Rice’s concept said leaning on sales tax as a replacement for property tax means the state’s tax revenue is susceptible to wild swings in economic growth and would put more of a burden on lower-income Idahoans.
If elected, Bolicek said he would also like to look at internal savings in the assessor’s office budget by examining the need for five motor vehicle registration locations across the county, three of which are leased spaces.
Bolicek grew up in Southern California and earned an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and an MBA from the University of California Irvine and California State University Long Beach respectively. He eventually became the budget and finance manager for three divisions of the Walt Disney Company and later budget and planning manager for Paramount Studios . He moved to Idaho in 1994 and opened Bolos Pub & Eatery in Meridian before becoming a real estate agent.
He earned his real estate license in 2016.
If he’s elected, Ron DeRoest won’t be traveling far to his new office.
DeRoest has worked in the Ada County Assessor’s Office for the past six years as a commercial appraiser and hopes to continue in McQuade’s footsteps if he is elected. He said the most important part of the job for him is to focus on the office’s mission of following Idaho State Code and properly assessing property values within ten percent of accuracy. If that doesn’t happen, it could trigger intervention from the state and a significant cost to taxpayers, he said.
“That has happened and the biggest thing that happened with that is you lose some tax money for the county and the citizens lose their ability to appeal their values,” DeRoest said. “There’s no appeal of those values once they’re set by the state tax commission… It’s easy to say you can lower assessments, but the assessment has to be within the law, or it’s a big problem.”
He said already being in the office and understanding the complexities of the job will give him a leg up in taking over from McQuade. DeRoest said because he already works in the office he is familiar with minor “hiccups” in the system where the assessor gets information from cities and counties about rezoned properties in order to adequately track their value increases and other items that need fixes to help things run smoothly.
Like McQuade, DeRoest also supports indexing the homeowner’s exemption to rising sales taxes and boosting the property tax reduction program, often known as the circuit breaker, to help low-income homeowners. He also supports the legislature eliminating Micron’s property tax exemption and a Great Recession era exemption allowing developers to only pay taxes on 25% of the value on undeveloped lots.
DeRoest has worked in and around real estate throughout nearly his entire career. He started his career in Arizona working in IT at a prominent home builder before jumping to working as an escrow officer. He eventually made his way to a mortgage serving company where he worked in their escrow office closing foreclosure transactions and other details before landing at the Ada County Assessor’s office. De Roest said he has completed over 200 hours of continuing education certifications through the state while working at the assessor’s office.
Staying the course is Dave Litster’s hope if he gets elected.
Litster said he hopes to follow McQuade’s lead and focus on following Idaho’s code and building better processes to fairly assess properties as well as serve customers renewing their vehicle licenses at the DMV.
“I think (the assessor’s office) is being run pretty well,” Litster said. “I am not going to upset the apple cart. There are some things I would do differently, but what I would continue to do is they have had a focus on providing the best level of service in the most cost-effective way. That is something that has been part of what I’ve tried to do in all of the different jobs I have.”
Litster grew up in Boise and headed off to enter the business world, eventually earning a degree from the Harvard School of Business. He then spent 18 years working around the country in places like Houston and Detroit in his business career before landing back in Boise in 1996 to work for Micron Technology. Now, he is the Executive Director of Academica, a company that supports charter schools across the county.
One of his big focuses would be to help better educate taxpayers on how the office assesses properties and where their tax money is going so they can more easily engage with their governments to effect change in spending. He hopes to achieve this by putting more information online about the assessment process, as well as put more energy into marketing the property tax reduction program to help low-income and senior homeowners with their tax burden.
Like McQuade, Litster also supports indexing the homeowners’ exemption to inflation and working with the legislature to find other ways to stop the shift in tax burden from commercial properties onto residential homebuyers.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the degree Bradley Bolicek earned for his undergraduate studies. It has been corrected to reflect he studied criminal justice.
An earlier version of this article misidentified the year Bolicek earned his real estate license. It has been corrected to reflect that he earned his sales license and became active in 2016.