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‘Nightmare’ scenario spelled out to assessor by county commissioners

Steven Friederich | The Vidette Assessor Rick Hole meets with the county commissioners Monday morning.Buy Photo
Steven Friederich | The Vidette Assessor Rick Hole meets with the county commissioners Monday morning.

MONTESANO — Assessor Rick Hole met with the county commissioners Monday morning and asked them to reconsider allowing his office to continue to spend funds on special software geared at helping the county with its annual revaluation process. The commissioners rejected his request, tabled the matter until next week and all three say they have more questions for Hole.

The meeting came less than a week after County Commission Chairman Frank Gordon demanded Hole’s resignation for spearheading the botched software program, which has yet to generate much of anything despite using state grant funding valued at between $150,000 and $200,000 on it.

Neither Hole nor Gordon directly commented on the resignation demand during the meeting. But, after, Gordon said he planned to renew his complaints with the state Department of Revenue this week with hopes the state agency may take action against Hole. And Hole issued a letter on Tuesday pledging to stay in office.

“I intend to continue my work as the duly elected County Assessor,” Hole wrote. “I signed on to serve the citizens of Grays Harbor to the best of my ability. I am working hard to give them the effective and efficient office they deserve and have every right to expect.

“We are late for the second year in a row with valuation notices,” Hole added. “There are many reasons but the primary one I believe, is that I made the decision to pursue a work plan for this year that was incapable of delivering the intended due date. The appraisers warned me about the problems with the plan and I decided to proceed, believing that we would have new tools in place in time to finish in a timely manner. I was wrong and I will work closely with the appraisers and make the necessary adjustment to this year’s work plan.” Hole says he’s in a “philosophical stalemate over the necessary steps to improve the assessment system” with the commissioners.

“We’ve been so focused on the program that the other part that the Assessor’s Office does has slid through the wayside,” Gordon said. “The rest of the state is sitting and holding its breath waiting for Grays Harbor County. The state can’t do some of their functions for school levies and things of that nature because we don’t have numbers. And I think that other part of the problem that has caused this is we’ve been so focused on this here program.”

Gordon says the biggest concern is that the county blows more money on the program and it just doesn’t work.

“If we dump more money into this and, by the first of the year it doesn’t work, we’re really in a nightmare,” Gordon told Hole.

Hole brought Bernie Benson with Dohdoh Design, the latest contractor responsible for overseeing the program, who noted that he is the third consultant brought on to do the program after “two other failed attempts” by other contractors. Benson and Hole both said they were about six months away from finishing the program. At this point, both admit, the program is still in its infancy. Benson said that his firm had just started working on the program in August — a full 13 months after two other contractors had tried and failed at designing something. Gordon has submitted one of those contractors to the State Auditor’s Office for potential fraud charges.

Benson admitted that he had no real knowledge of the county’s base software used in the program, a language called Delphi, and was learning on the job. That brought a rebuke from County Commissioner Wes Cormier, who noted that when Benson was hired it should have been Hole’s job to find someone that actually knew the program. And the county shouldn’t have had to pay for Benson and his firm to figure it out on the job. That’d be like hiring a construction crew, who had to learn how to construct a building while on the job, Cormier said.

“It’s uncommonly in use,” Benson said, adding that the county would have had to go to Europe to find someone that knew the system.

The new budget and scope created a whole new set of questions, Cormier said, about why the first billings were so high to begin with and what the county actually got for its money.