Local News

Monday, Mar 31 2014 02:39 PM

'First Look': Three candidates to battle it out for assessor seat

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    Kern County assessor candidate Russell Johnson, left, discusses his qualifications for the position with Californian Executive Editor Robert Price, center, and government reporter James Burger on "First Look with Scott Cox."

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    Kern County assessor candidate Lupe Esquivias, left, discusses his qualifications for the position with Californian Executive Editor Robert Price, center, and government reporter James Burger on "First Look with Scott Cox" on March 31, 2014.

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    Kern County assessor candidate Jon Lifquist, left, discusses his qualifications for the position with Californian Executive Editor Robert Price, center, and government reporter James Burger on "First Look with Scott Cox" on March 31, 2014.

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By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

The race for Kern County assessor is on, and voters will choose among two Assessor-Recorder employees and a Bakersfield city councilman.

Will experience reign over name recognition? Guests attempted to answer that and many other questions Monday on “First Look with Scott Cox,” as one by one the three candidates, Russell Johnson, Lupe Esquivias and Jon Lifquist, explained why they should be elected Kern County assessor-recorder.

The job is a vital part of government financing.

An assessor must locate all taxable property in the county, determine value for all taxable property and apply legal exemptions and exclusions.

Jim Fitch, the current assessor, will not run for re-election in June.

Russell Johnson

Bakersfield City Councilman Johnson represents Ward 7. He does not have any experience in the county assessor's office, but if elected, he would have to get an appraiser's license.

Californian reporter James Burger asked Johnson during the simulcast how he would get the job done in an office full of appraisers and lead it in such a technical task.

"The world's best appraiser can get the wrong valuation, if they apply the rules wrong," Johnson said. "The most important thing . . . is being on the side of the taxpayer."

Johnson went on to say the taxpayer is most critical because it's their property and everything has to be right, fair and accurate. When those three elements aren't present, there's a reason for concern.

"When you look at our assessor's office, there is a lack of customer service when people go in there," the councilman said.

Johnson said that when taxpayers walk in wanting to talk to an appraiser, they often are asked to return at a later date because nobody is available.

And that is a "huge customer service issue" for Johnson, he said.

The councilman said he has plenty of experience in Kern County government and some experience in assessment review in his current job as a political consultant, and is willing to learn more.

Lupe Esquivias

Lupe Esquivias has worked in the assessor-recorder's office for the past seven years. He said some of his innovative ideas have been adopted by the office and changes will come if he wins in the race.

Esquivias said he developed a program to keep assignments and paperwork organized and it's now mandatory that employees use the program.

"I have ideas to make the office more efficient," Esquivias said.

One of his ideas is to transform all paper documents into files that can be stored in a database for easier and faster access.

"A lot of time is spent pulling records and scanning them," he said. "We have the technology to make this change happen."

Making record handling more user-friendly is also something that, if elected, Esquivias wants to explore. Making information and documents available just a click away would help both the office and the taxpayer, he said.

Jon Lifquist

Jon Lifquist has worked for 25 years at the Assessor-Recorder's Office and has 29 years' worth of experience as an appraiser under his belt.

"I couldn't see anybody more qualified than myself," Lifquist said.

When asked what Lifquist thought of Johnson running for the position, Lifquist said Johnson is not qualified for the job.

There is a 15-to-20-year learning curve and Johnson just does not have it, Lifquist said.

"A politician is someone who makes a deal," Lifquist said. As an assessor "you have to be accurate and fair with every single person."

Lifquist said one area he would focus on, if elected, would be explaining to taxpayers what an assessor does. Understanding how things are done and why is key to customer service, he said.

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