Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson reprimanded county Treasurer Ana Maria Nuñez at the end of Monday’s meeting over a perceived error on Camano Island tax statements.
Questioning Nuñez during the commissioner comments portion of the meeting, Johnson drew criticism from her fellow board members as being unprofessional and making a “spectacular display” of the issue.
A difference in the appearance of 2014 tax statements issued last month from those issued in 2013 led some Camano residents to believe their taxes had been increased. Nuñez said that this was a “misperception” and that a clarification letter would be mailed sometime this week.
Johnson said that while the issue turned out to be a miscommunication with the public, she was not pleased with how Nuñez handled the situation.
“I feel I’m standing in front of the principal which I’ve never done,” Nuñez said.
The letter that was sent to printers last week from Nunez to the public appears to place blame on the Island County Assessor’s Office, according to Johnson.
“If you have any questions about the levy itself, please call the Assessor’s Office,” the letter reads.
At Monday’s meeting, Johnson first briefly questioned Assessor Mary Engle, establishing that Engle gave Nuñez’s office correct tax data for both 2013 and 2014.
Johnson then called up Nuñez and proceeded to scold her for blaming the assessor’s office for making an error. In addition, Nuñez waited five days to discuss the issue with Johnson, a Republican, or Commissioner Kelly Emerson, a Republican who represents Camano Island.
Nuñez, a Democrat, had been in contact with fellow Democrat Commissioner Helen Price Johnson. Johnson said the full board should have been notified as soon as the issue arose.
“I didn’t attempt to hide anything or pass the blame onto anyone else,” Nuñez said.
Sending the roughly 12,000 clarification letters to Camano residents will cost the treasurer’s office $4,500 in postage alone, Nuñez said.
Some discussion had begun with Price Johnson about county commissioners sharing in the cost of the extra mailing. Johnson said she did not like the idea of island taxpayers having to shoulder the cost of the treasurer’s error.
The Stanwood-Camano School District and the assessors office have been receiving calls in recent weeks after tax statements were sent out with what appeared to be a rate increase from 2013 to 2014 in the school buildings maintenance and operations levy.
Camano Island residents were told during the last levy approval process that if an increase in this levy was approved, it would replace an expiring levy and would not result in an overall tax increase.
Nuñez said some interpreted the higher amount for 2014 as the school district “breaking faith” with the voters, but this is a misunderstanding.
“I want to make sure the public understands that the school district kept their word,” Nuñez said.
Johnson said Price Johnson sent out an email prior to the meeting stating her intention to raise the issue at Monday’s meeting.
At the meeting however, both Commissioners Price Johnson and Kelly Emerson said they did not support Johnson’s decision to address the issue during commissioner comments.
“This is inappropriate for a business meeting,” Emerson said. “I’m going to have to ask you to stop.”
Despite her disagreement with Johnson’s approach, Emerson agreed that she should have been notified immediately about the problem.
“I wish that would have been brought to me,” Emerson said.
Price Johnson, who attended the meeting via phone from Olympia, suggested they “address this in a more professional manner” when the three commissioners can meet in person.
Johnson said she brought the issue to Monday’s meeting because of Price Johnson’s email. Price Johnson could not be reached for further comment.
In addition, the commissioners will not have a work session where all three can attend for three weeks, and Johnson said the issue needed to be addressed immediately.
“We needed transparency and we needed to own the mistake,” Johnson said. “It was important that everyone knew what was going on.”