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Rebecca Arnold, Erik Berg go head to head for Ada County Assessor

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Ada County will have a new assessor for the first time in nearly 30 years in 2023. It’s up to the voters who will fill the job. 

In November, voters will decide at the ballot box whether they would like Republican Rebecca Arnold or Democrat Erik Berg to take the helm of the county office responsible for assessing property values for taxation purposes as close to their actual value as possible. 

Berg made it onto the ballot late in the election season after the Democrats’ initial candidate Laurie Barrera won the Democratic primary and then opted not to run. This allowed the Democratic Party to select a replacement, eventually setting on Berg. Arnold is running on the Republican ticket after besting three opponents in the May primary. County assessors don’t have the power to change Idaho’s tax system, set the overall budget for Ada County, or physically collect taxes from property owners.

Over the last year, BoiseDev interviewed both candidates to learn about their priorities for the office. Here’s more information in alphabetical order: 

Rebecca Arnold

This is not Arnold’s first rodeo with Ada County voters. 

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.

Erik Berg

Berg is not a newcomer to local politics either, but he has never held elected office. 

Frequent attendees of Boise City Council or Planning & Zoning meetings might recognize Berg from his role as a former Southeast Neighborhood Association President where he has testified against development projects or requested changes in recent years. He also served as the Chair of the Ada County Democrats in recent years and ran against former Commissioner Diana Lachiondo in 2018, but lost the nomination to her before she went on to serve a two year term. 

Berg hopes to use his experience as a bookkeeper and accountant for a large-scale commercial roofing business if he’s elected to be the new Ada County Assessor. While he has not done real estate appraisals himself, he said his experience managing employees in a large organization, managing their finances and his work in buying, selling and partnering on real estate development gives him the necessary background to lead the office. He said he is “very familiar” with all of the items going into how properties are valued, like square foot, comparable values and the impact of sales on other properties. 

His first priority if elected would be to empower the experienced staff the office already has, educate the public and all them to do their jobs effectively. 

“I know with the backlash that has come with higher property taxes, which isn’t the assessor’s fault, there’s been a lot of hate and really ugly stuff directed towards some of the staff there at the assessor’s office,” Berg said. “One of the things the assessor needs to do is get out in front of that and establish through to the community at large how property taxes actually work and take a stand to defend the employees. You need to say it is absolutely unacceptable to do anything to intimidate them or insult them.”

Berg would also like to lobby for changes to Idaho’s property tax system in an effort to lessen the property tax burden. He said the Idaho Legislature’s sweeping tax package in 2021 that paired an increase to the homeowners exemption with an increase to the exemption for personal property made the increase in the tax benefit not as impactful for residential homeowners as it would have been otherwise. He also supports changes to Idaho code to ensure commercial property sales are publicly available, like residential sales are, in order to help the assessor more accurately determine commercial property values. 

Another priority of his would be to support policies that could reimburse Ada County for the high number of parcels that are exempt from taxation because they are owned by the State of Idaho, Boise State University, the City of Boise or properties like Micron with heavy tax exemptions. All of these properties not being taxed, or not being taxed at their full value, push the tax burden onto other taxpayers, so Berg said there should be a system of some sort that would address this imbalance and offset this burden. He didn’t have specifics in mind, but he said it could be modeled after PILT payments that reimburse counties with large amounts of public lands. 

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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