Gary Peterson named interim county assessor

Assessor Mike Kerrigan plans to leave in June for Grand Junction job

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Gary J. Peterson

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday appointed current employee Gary J. Peterson to fill out the term of Assessor Mike Kerrigan, who is leaving June 1 to take a job in Grand Junction.

“We’re pleased, and we think you’ll do a good job,” Commission Chair­­woman Nan­cy Stahoviak told Peterson.

Peterson also has announced his independent candidacy for the permanent post in the Novem­ber election. As of Tues­day afternoon, no other candidates had declared their intent to run by filing an affidavit with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

Peterson has a little more than five years of experience as an appraiser spread over two terms of employment in the Routt County Assessor’s Office. A number of his fellow employees attended Tuesday’s vote by the commissioners to express their support for Peterson. He said that was a factor in his decision to pursue the interim appointment and run for office.

“When the commissioners asked me why I was interested in such a difficult job, I told them that I was getting all of this strong encouragement from my colleagues, and I didn’t want to see someone else come in and become the boss, and it would be up to (senior appraiser) Davonna (Robson) and I to train that new boss. I feel I have the experience required to take on this demanding role.”

Three other people had applied for the interim role, but none expressed an interest in running for the office of assessor.

The commissioners interviewed only Peterson for the interim job, and Commissioner Doug Monger said it was important to the board to put someone in that role who could immediately step in and understand the workings of the office, including the statutory requirements placed on the assessor.

“Having a smooth transition in the office is important to us, and we’re glad you stepped up,” Monger said.

Peterson will serve as interim assessor through Jan. 11, 2011, when a new, full-time assessor is sworn in to office. During his interim tenure, his monthly pay will be based on the annual statutory salary of $58,500.

Kerrigan’s new job will keep him in close contact with county assessors on the Western Slope. He will be one of two employees working in the Grand Junction office of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs’ Division of Property Tax Support. In his new role, he said, he will provide workshops for county assessors, track legislation affecting elected assessors and write statutory procedures to help them carry out their duties.

Peterson’s new role creates an opening in the assessor’s office, and the commissioners confirmed that he is free to hire a replacement, likely on a temporary basis. He agreed that he would follow that course so he can return to his previous job in the event that someone else wins the Nov. 2 election. Peterson said he would wait to hire and train a new employee until after the May property tax appeals process.

As an unaffiliated candidate, Peterson will be required to petition his way onto the fall ballot because he cannot be the nominee of a political party. Election law requires him to submit the language of his petition to County Clerk Kay Weinland for approval. He will be required to obtain a number of signatures equal to 2 percent of the votes cast in the county for the assessor’s office in the most recent general election (or no more than 750 signatures). That number won’t be certified until his petition language is approved, but the number is expected to be between 200 and 250, according to the clerk’s office. He can’t begin circulating petitions until April 30.

Peterson said he has spent most of his time in the assessor’s office appraising single-family homes within a crescent-shaped district up to 10 miles beyond the Steamboat Springs city limits. He added that he thinks he’s succeeded in identifying a significant number of buildings, new barns for instance, that had not previously been on the tax rolls.

The assessor’s office will spend much of Peterson’s interim assessor tenure gathering data in preparation for setting a new property tax valuation for the county in May 2011.

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