Assessor-treasurer adds staff for property tax exemptions

The new year is bringing more people to process new applications and renewals for property tax exemptions for senior and disabled homeowners in Pierce County.

At the request of Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan, the 2018 county budget includes funding to hire a fifth member of the “exemptions team.” Going from four to five workers will help the staff keep up with the workload, according to Lonergan. He said a recent increase in the household income level that qualifies for exemptions has caused the “team to fall behind.”

Lonergan said 4,000 new applications and 3,800 renewals and status changes are processed each year. Applicants “experienced unacceptable delays in processing” in 2017, “which must not be repeated in 2018,” he added.

Lonergan’s request for more personnel was included by the County Council in the budget it approved Nov. 21. Funding for the exemptions employee was left out of the inlitial budget proposed by County Executive Bruce Dammeier.

In a memo to the council, Lonergan urged the council “in the strongest possible terms” to grant his request. He also noted that the assessor-treasurer staff has been reduced by 20 percent over the past 15 years through the use of technology and other gains in efficiency.

The budget also addresses law enforcement by giving the Sheriff Department money for switching two deputy positions to lieutenants and adding two jail officers and a community liaison project coordinator. But Sheriff Paul Pastor noted the allocations fall short of what he requested — 13 additional deputies and 13 more corrections officers.

“Bottom line: We will work hard with what we were given, but we need more,” Pastor said, citing a shortage of deputies “to properly serve the citizens in large and rapidly growing Pierce County.”