Three Republicans are vying to be the next Benton County assessor, but voters can choose only two in the Aug. 5 primary to advance to the general election.
Tony Hillerman, Mary Phillips and Bill Spencer all have experience working for county government.
Hillerman is in his 22nd year as a Benton County appraiser, and Spencer is a certified real estate appraiser who owns Spencer Appraisal Service. Spencer also worked for the Franklin County assessor's office.
Phillips isn't an appraiser. In her role as Benton County's geographic information systems (GIS) manager for the past 13 years, she has worked with the assessor's office and its employees, has trained the employees in technology and helped them analyze data and maintain the mapping of county parcels, she said.
County Assessor Barbara Wagner, who took office in 1991, is retiring and isn't seeking a seventh term. The position is paid $101,540 a year.
Primary ballots were mailed earlier this week.
Hillerman decided to run after Wagner, his boss, decided to retire. His time in the office makes him uniquely suited to take over the reins, he said.
Hillerman, 60, has managed the commercial department in the appraiser's office for more than eight years, which has meant defending appraisals at the local and state board in addition to appraising property. He can explain to property owners how their property value was determined. He has a general appraisal certification from the state and can value residential, commercial, industrial and farm properties.
"I believe that I have the vision and the insight to see where the assessor's office needs to go," he said.
Hillerman wants to keep the office on the cutting edge of technology as part of a continued effort to do more with less, he said. For example, appraisers now use tablets in the field to enter data directly into the county's system, avoiding data re-entry and speeding up the process.
The assessor's office already is operating on a slim budget, he said.
Hillerman moved from Yakima to Kennewick a few weeks before he filed so he could run for the position. He talked about it with the auditor to make sure he met all legal requirements to run for the position, he said.
He had been living in Yakima and commuting so his wife, Connie, would not have to commute to Yakima for her job. They will buy a home in Benton County and sell their Yakima County home should Hillerman be elected, he said.
They have four children and six grandchildren.
Hillerman has been endorsed by Wagner and Debra Antes, the Walla Walla County assessor. He has raised about $5,900, mostly with in-kind contributions, according to the state public disclosure commission. He has used $400 from a personal loan and received a $500 donation from Harriet Mercer, Benton County's chief deputy assessor.
Phillips was approached by a few people, including her boss, County Administrator David Sparks, and encouraged to run for the position, she said.
The assessor doesn't appraise properties, and appraisals are only a portion of what the office does, she said. Her main emphasis is customer service.
Phillips, 48, of Prosser, would like the assessor's office to use more geographic information systems technology to analyze data to check for consistency, she said. She also wants to work with other county departments to eliminate redundancies and to cross-train employees to better serve county residents.
"We need to do more with what we have," she said.
Her work with different county departments gives her a sense of the bigger picture that would aid her as county assessor, she said. She would give up her current job if elected.
She and her husband, David, have three children and one grandchild.
Phillips has been endorsed by Sparks, Benton County commissioners Jerome Delvin and Jim Beaver, former county commissioners Max Benitz, Jr. and Leo Bowman, former Benton County auditor Bobbie Gagner, Bill Lampson of Lampson International and former Secretary of State Sam Reed.
Phillips has raised $8,600 for her campaign, with most coming from a loan. She and her husband also have contributed $1,000.
Spencer, who ran for appraiser in 2010 and lost to Wagner in the general election, feels his experience makes him well-suited to serve as assessor, he said.
As a business owner, he has the leadership and management experience needed to lead the office, he said. He said his experience in working in the public and private sector position him well to serve the county and the public.
Spencer, 36, said his goal is to ensure that the assessor's office provides fair property evaluations, listens to county residents and becomes more efficient.
There is room to cut costs, he said. Adding to efficiency also would help the office get better results and have fewer appeals.
"This is the community that I care about and love," said Spencer, a Richland resident of more than 30 years.
He and his wife, Kimberly, have five children, with a sixth on the way.
He would continue to own Spencer Appraisal Service if elected but would no longer work for the business, he said.
Spencer has been endorsed by Tri-City Association of Realtors and Steve Marks, Franklin County assessor.
He has raised $11,400 for his campaign. Most of that is from cash contributions. He received $1,800 from a small fundraiser, $1,000 from Gilroy Family Three LLC of Bellevue and $500 each from Sigma Management Inc. of Richland and Jim Sterling of Richland.
-- For more election stories, go to tricityherald.com/election.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org