Friday, 19 April 2024

Benson: Lee a demonstrated problem solver

I am supporting Hannah Faith Lee for Lake County assessor-recorder in the June 7 election.

She is a demonstrated problem solver, and a forward-thinking person who wants to increase the accountability, communication and transparency of this office.

The incumbent’s arbitrary policies about when the title companies could come in to record their sale documents have caused delays by at least one day, often three days if it is a Friday.

This has had real impacts on consumers who want to move in over the weekend. It also has meant lost revenue to the county.

For months after the county COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, the incumbent would only allow the title companies into his office to record documents at 10 and 11 a.m.

Here is the problem with that: Loan funds often don’t arrive until late morning or early afternoon, and same with overnight documents.

Requests to change the recording times to afternoons to allow people to complete their home purchase sooner fell on deaf ears.

To be fair, with the election looming, title companies are now allowed to record documents twice a day since March 25. The incumbent’s announcement said the recording times were doubling because COVID restrictions were over, but this was months after restrictions had been lifted.

I tried to find out how severe the backlogs are for reassessing improved properties, and in mailing back the recorded documents.

I asked the Board of Supervisors if they had any reports from any department heads, including the Assessor-Recorder’s Office, tracking the extent of the backlogs we hear about in all departments.

The Board of Supervisors has no ongoing record of any department backlogs, and no goals for tracking and reducing those backlogs. I, for one, would like to know whether we are making progress.

I submitted a public records act request asking for backlog and other information from the Assessor-Recorder’s Office. The incumbent refused to answer that question, but interestingly, in public forums he will say, “The backlogs are reduced by 75%.” So either the incumbent has that data and refused to provide it as required under the public records act, or he is simply making up the 75% figure.

And it still doesn’t address how backed up they are in reassessments and in mailing out documents. Ask anyone who works at a title company how many calls a day they get asking when they will get their recorded documents mailed back. This has cost immense lost time by the staff at Fidelity National Title and First American Title explaining they have no control over when documents get mailed back by the assessor-recorder.

We are one of the last counties in California to adopt electronic recording for documents. Escrow officers from out of our county say to me, “Your county is still recording by hand? What year is it up there?”

When I researched electronic recording in 2019, I spoke with the assessor-recorders of Sonoma County and Napa County. Both told me it was a 12- to 18-month process to get the program going, and while it took time and staff needed training, it saved them substantial time and postage from not having to mail out recorded documents.

The incumbent started in 2018 that process to put electronic recording in place. More than three years later, it still isn’t up and running. We have yet to hear when it will be operational.

Even with the pandemic slowing things down, a 12- to 18-month process started in 2018 should have been almost done before the lockdown in March 2020.

I looked at the county budgets over the past several years. Each department head justifies the department’s budget by stating the goals they want to achieve. The incumbent’s only goal has been to recruit and train more staff. Is this a measurable goal? How do you know if you have achieved it? And where are goals to reduce backlogs?

I understand there were no funds allocated for communicating with the public. The Board of Supervisors insisted on the incumbent putting money in the budget for this. There is no excuse for our citizens to not be notified of a big increase in their next property tax bill.

The Board of Equalization audited the Lake County assessor-recorder in 2014, before the incumbent took office. There were 11 recommendations. The incumbent responded to those recommendations at the time the report was issued in 2016 and was supposed to submit annual reports until such time that all recommendations had been implemented. No other reports were filed, and Lake County is out of compliance with the Board of Equalization.

Similarly, each of the 58 county assessor-recorders are required to submit annual figures on budget, personnel, appeals and roll data; Lake County is one of 11 counties that fail to do that. Once again, we are out of compliance. This was the first finding on the 2014 audit. When we are out of compliance with the first finding (arguably the easiest to comply with), where else are we out of compliance?

I support Hannah Faith Lee for assessor-recorder because she wants to improve the department such as modernizing the office’s operations, setting measurable goals and being accountable for them, communicating with the public about issues affecting their wallets, finally getting the electronic recording program implemented, and allowing the title companies to come in when they need to.

I believe our county cannot afford another four years of the incumbent assessor-recorder. To quote one of the incumbent’s own staff, “At some point, we have to start serving the public.”

Please join me in voting for Hannah Faith Lee for assessor-recorder in the June 7 election.

Mary Benson lives in Lower Lake, Calif.

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