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Former interim assessor to run against Matt Keating

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Property Values

A new home is shown under construction in 2016 in Bar Nunn. Property values continue to rise in Natrona County. The values of those properties are likely to be a factor in this year's race for county assessor.

Former interim Natrona County Assessor Tammy Saulsbury has filed to run against sitting Assessor Matt Keating in this fall’s Republican primary.

Saulsbury held the office of interim assessor for under a year before Keating, a former county commissioner, was elected by a narrow margin in 2018.

She was appointed from her position as deputy chief assessor after the previous assessor, Connie Smith, retired in March 2018 and died in hospice two days later. Before taking the interim post, Saulsbury had worked at the assessor’s office for 13 years.

Keating has come under fire as assessor, as property values have risen across the county since he took office in 2019. According to Keating, valuations are up an average of 15% across the board since he began his tenure.

“I want to stop these unjust Keating tax hikes with incomparable properties,” Saulsbury said Tuesday.

The assessor doesn’t set tax rates — the officeholder just uses them in an equation that also uses recent sale prices of similar properties to come up with yearly valuations.

The number of protests rose along with the valuations. In 2019, the office saw 256 people file appeals. In 2020, the office received more than 3,000 appeals — though Keating noted that each tract must be appealed, and many people own several tracts. Last year, Oil City News reported the county heard around 350 formal protests.

In the year Saulsbury served as interim assessor, she said the county Board of Equalization received zero formal appeals. The year prior, before Saulsbury was at the helm, the assessor received 1,250 informal protests. Saulsbury previously told the Star-Tribune those came from mathematical errors.

Some residents cited their valuations going up as much as 400% between 2018 and 2019. Others who spoke with the Star-Tribune in years past said their property values had doubled or increased by at least 15%.

Keating said Tuesday that although the protest filing period is still open through the start of June, filings are “really light compared to previous years.” Exact numbers were not available Tuesday.

Saulsbury said she believes the large number of protests are a waste of county time and taxpayer money. If elected, she said she plans to examine data from the last four years then “get back to a time where things were fair and balanced.” Saulsbury said she would have an open-door policy if elected, and hopes to maintain communication with the public.

Her own property in River West, Saulsbury said, has risen in value under Keating. She did not have an exact percentage.

Since he arrived, Keating said, the assessor’s office has been under a work order from the state Board of Equalization to bring property values into compliance.

An October 2021 letter to Keating from members of the Board of Equalization, which continued the work order another year, cites the assessor’s “herculean efforts” to bring valuations into compliance.

The letter also noted the “heavy criticism” Keating faced from “various sectors (County Board of Commissioners; legislators; taxpayers).” The assessor said Tuesday that he’s lost family and friends over the controversies surrounding his office.

Keating said Tuesday he believes previous assessors were improperly lowering valuations for residents unhappy with their results. Properties were therefore undervalued, he said, and residents experienced a “sticker shock” when seeing the new values.

Values are still being adjusted, Keating said. He’s still working on an ongoing stratification of the county, a process that groups properties by type and land size to help calculate value based on recent sale prices.

The Republican primary, where Saulsbury and Keating will face off, is set for Aug. 16.

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