★ Accomplishments ★
Assessor Mark Church's first priority in assuming office in 2011 was a department-wide reorganization to meet the changing needs of the organization, streamline operations, maximize productivity and improve efficiencies. The staff reorganization was accomplished without changing the existing staffing numbers and without an increase in net county cost.
Under Assessor Church's leadership, the Department's continuing "Green Initiative" has been expanded. This project allows auditors and appraisers to easily access real and business property scanned images to support the valuation, auditing and appeals work that they do.
In an effort to ensure that employees are held to the highest ethical standards, Assessor Church initiated policies regarding incompatible activities, use of county resources for private gain and performance of duties which are conflict of interest with department employment. The two policies recently initiated are:
- Policy of Incompatible Activities of County Employees
- Policy regarding Procedures for Maintaining the Integrity of Assessments of Employee-owned Properties
Under Assessor Church's leadership, 100% of the Assessment Roll, comprised of all tangible real and business property in the county, was successfully completed on time each year. For FY 2013 -2014, over 220,000 units of real property on the secured roll and over 16,000 units of business/personal property on the unsecured roll were assessed for a combined value of $156 billion. The timely closing of the roll is the direct result of the Assessor implementing certain operational changes and using retired appraisal staff which contributed to the efficiency of the roll closing process.
Creation of Appeals Team
Upon assuming office in January 2011, the Department faced a growing backlog of 3,682 outstanding Assessment Appeals. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Assessor Church led efforts to develop and implement best practices to reduce the backlog. An appeals team of appraisers to handle all residential and commercial appeals up to $10 million was immediately formed. The creation of a team of appraisers specializing in appeals resulted in a standardized approach in the presentation of appeals, improving the efficiency of the appeals process and the quality of the presentations, a more efficient and timely disposition of appeals, and a better outcome of the appeals. All of this helped to mitigate the unprecedented backlog of assessment filings.
Creation of "Decline in Value" Process Improvements
The Decline in Value program allows for a temporary reduction in the assessed value of a property when the current market value falls below the current assessed value. The proactive review by the Assessor's staff of Decline in Value properties has increased from 1,400 to 38,000 in the last four years. Even though the real estate market is improving, approximately 27,000 properties are still in the program.
Under Assessor Church's leadership, staff developed an approach that enabled appraisers to value these properties in a more efficient and fair manner. The outcome was a valuation model for Decline in Value properties that produced comparable sales with adjustments for variables between the comparables and property being reviewed. This new valuation model resulted in a 15% to 20% increase in the efficiency of the Decline in Value process. In addition to speeding up the process, it also resulted in fairer appraisals, which reduced the number of appeals.
Appeals Backlog Reduction
In the first two years in office, Assessor Church faced a 180% increase in the assessment appeals over a 4-year period from FY 2007-08 to FY 2011-12. Assessor Church successfully addressed the outstanding appeals through the implementation of best management practices, the creation of an appeals team and the development of the new valuation model for Decline in Value properties. Also, Assessor Church appointed 5 additional temporary appraisers to perform regular activities such as Change in Ownership and new construction valuations.
Weekly, Monthly and Quarterly Production Reports
To monitor workload progress and to ensure the Assessment Roll is closed on time, Assessor Church developed a system of periodic targets requiring weekly, monthly and quarterly production reports. The tracking of the appraisers' workload on set intervals enables management to reassign staff earlier in the assessment year for timelier enrollment assessment and mitigation of workload anomalous.
Assessment Appeals - Preservation of Taxable Value
Under Assessor Church's leadership, the Assessor's Opinion of Value was successfully defended before the Assessment Appeals Board and the courts in the amount of $4.7 billion for FY 2012-13.
In his first term in office, Assessor Church successfully settled 10 years of outstanding litigation with Genentech. Since then, other major commercial property appeals have settled, including Serramonte and Tanforan shopping centers, the Marriott Hotel in Burlingame, the Sun Micro System/Facebook complex, IKEA in East Palo Alto and Redus/Woodland (a 105 parcels of mixed used development) in East Palo Alto.
Assessor's Annual Report
Assessor Church created the County's first Assessor's Annual Report for FY 2013-14. The Assessor's Annual Report provides a detailed overview of the Assessment Roll and the Property Tax Process. The report is filled with valuable information, statistics and charts for the public, elected officials and business leaders to use as a quick reference tool to obtain a better understanding of the assessment and property tax process.
Assessor Division Technology Improvements and Upgrades
Assessment Property Tax System - The evaluation and replacement of our existing Assessor Property Tax System has been one of Assessor Church's highest priorities. The replacement of the existing system will be a major capital investment that requires a well thought-out plan for implementation particularly, given the complexity of the Assessor's technical and functional system requirements.
The Assessor is at the forefront of the workflow of property tax assessments, assessment appeals, billing, collection and distribution of revenue. The Assessor System must interface with 20 municipal planning and building departments along with the County's Planning and Building Department.
Based on the experience of other counties statewide, it is anticipated the process of system evaluation, procurement, integration and implementation will take 3 to 5 years.
AS/400 System Replacement and Operating System Upgrades - A prudent decision was made by Assessor Church to replace the aging AS/OS 400 (hardware and operating system). That decision provided operational cost-savings by enabling the property assessment system to process batch information up to 20 times faster, resulting in more efficient use of staff time and the timely closing of the property assessment roll. Additionally, the new AS/OS 400 extended the life of the existing system thereby allowing sufficient time to develop and implement a new state-of-the-art Assessor System.
County Clerk-Recorder Division
Historical Preservation of Maps & Documents
As the County Clerk-Recorder and the official custodian of all land and voting records, one of Assessor Church's first actions in office was to conduct a thorough review and evaluation of the condition of the historical records dating back to the formation of the county in 1856. After consultation with consultants and experts in this field, it was determined that the county has deferred preservation of these fragile historical assets due to the immense costs associated with the intricate nature of a preservation project of this magnitude. Assessor Church has proposed and is committed to implementing a major initiative to protect and preserve these irreplaceable historical assets for future generations.
Electronic Recording of Documents
Under Assessor Church's leadership, the electronic recording of documents has grown exponentially. In FY 2010-11, the number of electronic documents recorded was 679, and in FY 2012-13 this number grew to 41,223. e-Recording is a more efficient and convenient method of recording and has resulted in cost-savings and faster recordings.
Social Security Number Truncation Program
During Assessor Church's first term, Phases II (1997 to 2008) and III (1980 to 1996) of the Social Security Number Truncation Program were initiated. Phase III was completed and Phase II is nearing completion. Phase I (July 2008 to day forward) is ongoing. The Social Security Truncation Program was initiated to protect against identity theft by redacting social security numbers from records, retroactively and prospectively, prior to disclosing them to the public.
CACEO Conference Host
In July 2013, Assessor Church and his staff successfully hosted a statewide conference for the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO) bringing together government officials and leaders from throughout the state to discuss and share best practices for city/county clerks and elections administration.
Registration & Elections Division
Vote by Mail Ballots (VBM)
Chief Elections Officer Church is a strong advocate of voting by mail which continues to rise in popularity in San Mateo County. He conducted the first countywide all-mail election to fill his vacated seat on the Board of Supervisors. That historic election saved taxpayers approximately $500,000. The savings resulted since no time, money or effort was spent to secure polling places, test hundreds of pieces of voting equipment, hire and train poll workers, deliver and secure voting equipment to hundreds of locations, and unpack and account for the materials after election day. Chief Elections Officer Church supports legislative relief to reduce the cost of elections by permitting local jurisdictions to conduct elections entirely by mail.
Chief Elections Officer Church provided critical testimony in support of AB 2028 before the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting. The bill, co-authored by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and Senator Jerry Hill, authorizes San Mateo County to participate in the all vote-by-mail election pilot project taking place in Yolo County. The bill passed out of Committee on a 4 to 1 vote and now proceeds to the Assembly Floor.
Registration and Elections Division Procedures
At Chief Elections Officer Church's direction, an ongoing review is being conducted of the Registration and Elections Division's policies and procedures. Many of these procedures have been in place for several years and recently, many have been amended or modified to improve the level of operations. In light of the many challenges from limited staffing and resources, to the complex and ever-changing environment of election laws, technologies and regulations, Chief Elections Officer Church strongly believes that an ongoing process of procedural review is essential for the efficient administration of the elections process.
Go Green Program
In his first year, Chief Elections Officer Church implemented the "Go Green" program which provides Sample Ballots electronically to voters instead of a paper version in the mail. This optional program is convenient for voters, reduces our carbon foot print and saves taxpayers' dollars.
Information Technology Unit
Data Storage and Backup
Assessor Church initiated improvements to the department's information technology infrastructure dramatically increasing the speed, reliability and capacity of the department's data and storage files. The replacement of the existing servers resulted in an increase in storage and backup capabilities from 4 TB of data to 30 TB of data. Also, a robust onsite data backup solution was implemented that provided the highest level of protection against mistakes, malevolent actions or data-deleting viruses.
Virtual Server Implementation (Replacement of Legacy Servers)
In a continuing effort to ensure the department stays ahead of the technology curve, Assessor Church made a strategic decision to place the department's file and data storage in a Virtual Memory (VM) Environment which reduced the number of existing servers from twenty (20) to four (4). VM-Ware servers were added to complement the transition to a new SQL Server and to create a more robust VM environment. The reduction in the number of servers resulted in significant operational efficiencies and cost savings due to lower equipment and maintenance costs and less electricity needed to power and cool the 20 servers. Also, the Virtual Environment made available office space that was previously required to store the 20 servers.
Replication and Disaster Recover Center
In the event of a large data loss or disaster, Assessor Church recognized the importance of implementing industry best practices to achieve continuity of operations and the protection of essential data. Assessor Church made a critical decision to implement a disaster-tolerant solution to mitigate the business impact and costs of service interruptions from such a significant event. An offsite data backup solution was installed, so that computer systems and applications can be easily brought online from a redundant location, allowing the department to continue operations with minimal or no down time.
Electronic Document Management System Upgrades
Under Assessor Church's leadership, upgrades to the department's largest document management system, FileNet, were installed. These upgrades improved the speed and reliability of the system. In addition, workflow data between the Appraisal and Recorder staff is more secure, and the new system provides maintenance and support levels that were not available in the prior version.
PC and Software Upgrades
To ensure our employees are provided with the latest tools and technology, Assessor Church authorized the IT Division to roll out 58 new PCs to replace aging computers and migrate all of the machines to a MS Windows 7 environment. As with all newer technology, the new computers are faster, more economical to run and increase staff efficiency significantly.