Kiwanis forum brings out differences in Hamilton County Assessor candidates

Hamilton County Assessor of Property candidates Marty Haynes standing, and Mark Siedlecki, right, participate in a forum at the Kiwanis Club meeting Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at the Mountain City Club.
photo Hamilton County Assessor of Property candidate Mark Siedlecki participates in a forum at the Kiwanis Club meeting Tuesday, June 21, 2016, at the Mountain City Club.
photo Hamilton County Assessor of Property candidates Marty Haynes participates in a forum at the Kiwanis Club meeting Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at the Mountain City Club.

Both contenders for the Hamilton County Assessor of Property seat want to modernize the office, but they have different ideas on how to do that.

On Tuesday, Democrat Mark Siedlecki and Republican Marty Haynes shared their visions for the office with the Kiwanis Club of Chattanooga.

Siedlecki said he favors a switch to desktop assessments, which rely on aerial digital imagery of properties and reduces the amount of on-site assessments, except when appreciable property changes have been made.

Adopting such a measure would significantly cut fuel and staffing costs, Siedlecki said.

"We've got 13 people up for retirement this year in the assessor's office," he said. "Through technology, we simply have six of those people not be replaced. That's a huge savings to the county."

Haynes' modernization proposal does not call for a technology overhaul that would go so far as removing appraiser "boots on the ground."

However, those field appraisers need more training, Haynes said.

"We need more training for our appraisers who are in the field," he said. "We may be a little bit behind right now, but we'll catch up in a couple of years."

While both candidates have private business backgrounds, Sieldlecki said decades of running technology-based companies made him "uniquely qualified" to modernize the assessor's office.

The candidate forum also touched upon the one issue that has dominated the race: a senior property tax freeze that the county commission has yet to adopt since the Tennessee General Assembly gave counties and municipalities the option in 2007.

If Hamilton County had adopted the program, seniors making less than $38,720 a year could qualify.

Siedlecki has taken on the issue as a key platform topic, although the assessor's office has no authority to authorize such a program. He describes himself as an advocate of the senior tax freeze and has repeatedly challenged Haynes, a county commissioner, on the matter.

Haynes said the matter is a non-issue.

"We've knocked on close to 1,500 doors at this point in time, and senior tax freeze is not coming up in a big way, folks," Haynes said.

"It's not an issue that folks are talking about in a big, big way."

Instead, folks wanted to know about sewer fees and city tax rates, Haynes said.

The Hamilton County Assessor of Property has no control over these matters either.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @pleach_tfp.