The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Auditor, assessor candidates speak out


Rick Nelson

Candidates night Matt Kuhl, auditor candidate, speaks, while, l-r, Brian McClain, assessor candidate, Nicci Bergseng, auditor, and Bill Coons, assessor, listen at a recent candidate night at the Skamokawa Grange.

On June 27, a candidate forum was held before a full house at the Skamokawa Grange. Each candidate was given an opportunity to introduce themselves before answering questions from the audience.

The second group to take the stage that night were the candidates for Wahkiakum County auditor and assessor. Current auditor Nicci Bergseng is facing challenger Matt Kuhl, and current assessor Bill Coons is being challenged by Brian McClain. They are all running as independents.

Here is what they had to say:

Bergseng: I have worked in some capacity in this county for nearly 20 years and in the auditor's office for three. I was recommended for appointment by Diane Tischer. While my staff and I do work hand in hand with departments and county commissioners on budgets and fiscal affairs, I am trusted to supervise additional roles. Administering elections, managing recordings, along with Department of Licensing duties are a large part of our office. I work every day to make sure that every task my office is responsible for completing is done in the most accurate and competent manner. I truly love my job. This has been my home for nearly 40 years. I am dedicated to the growth and prosperity of the county.

Kuhl: I'm running for Wahkiakum County auditor because I truly care about the people in this county. I want to serve, protect, and secure the financial future of this county. I'm going to do that by ensuring the internal controls are in place to make sure there is oversight of the departments. We're going to have to find efficiencies to make sure that we are not raising taxes for our residents. I spent five years studying and training to be an accountant and graduated from Washington State University with an accounting degree. I currently work at Futcher Group, a CPA firm, in Kelso.

Coons: I've been your assessor since 2011. I'm running because it is a crucial job that needs to be done right. I'm the best qualified candidate here because I'm a Washington Department of Revenue accredited property tax appraiser. I've taken classes like Fundamentals of the Assessors Office, the International Association of Assessing Officers 101, 102, and 300, classes in approach to evaluation and mass appraisal. I've been a local realtor for five years and invested 180 hours in training not only to become a broker, but a managing broker. I've served on and chaired the Board of Equalization. I have a BS in electrical engineering and computer science and I've been in management for 25 years. I know all aspects of the job.

McClain: I moved here in 1985. I retired from the military in 2007 and came back to the place I always considered my home. I love the sense of community we have here. I became interested in running for county assessor because I was disappointed in the interactions I had with that office. Am I going to sit around and gripe about it or stand up and do something? I hope I can bring to the county my attention to detail and the integrity that I learned dealing with the country's nuclear weapons to the county's assessors office to make sure all the assessments that we have are accurate, detailed and equitable from property to property.

Managing union employees?

Bergseng: Currently I do manage a union staff. When there are issues, there are steps that you take in order to address those issues. We have an HR department within our office and there are union reps to handle issues, but more importantly is having open communication and working with your staff to obtain the end result of working as a team.

Kuhl: I've had to manage a team of soldiers. If you are really able to connect with them you can instill confidence that a team is the best approach to accomplishing the mission. As a leader I would never ask people to do more than I would do myself.

Coons: I've got to say that managing in a union environment was a shock to me. I've been in private industry my whole life, and now I've encountered another layer of limitation on doing things I wanted to do. But as I matured into the office I learned it's pretty straightforward. There is a contract. The duties and responsibilities are right there, they protect both management and the employees. We can work together and still have some flexibility and get things done for the county.

McClain: I learned supervisory skills both from being in the military as well as running my own business. You can't ask someone to act differently than you act.

How do you plan to juggle all the duties of your office and keep up with the necessary continued education?

Bergseng: Currently we go to conferences to better our education. I started out in accounts payable and worked as chief deputy on up to auditor. So I'm able to work in all areas of our office. With my staff, I feel confident that we can take care of all components in our office along with training. Cross training.

Kuhl: It involves prioritizing what is most important and what needs be done and what can be done later. As an accountant, continuing education is important. There is always an update of new tax law or accounting standards.

Coons: To stay on top of the duties of my office have been a challenge, given that the legislature has required us to value the entire county annually. I personally have withdrawn from trips to the Assessors Association, because I'm a working assessor. I am part of the team in the office. The continuing education for my accreditation will be brought up to date in the first week of July.

McClain: For 20 years I operated and managed the most complex communications systems in the world, so I'm quite confident I can readily learn and adapt to the situation.

What are some areas that you feel need improvement in the office?

Bergseng: We have a young office, so getting everybody trained. We can all improve our customer service skills and being able to handle public questions.

Kuhl: Protect the tax payers' money. I would make sure the internal control procedures are solid. I know there are some systems that are already there that could be better utilized.

Coons: With an office as complex as the assessor's office, there is always areas for improvement. We're updating our appraisal model to incorporate different attributes of property and validating it against past sales to make sure it is indeed an improvement. Online access could be vastly improved. Unfortunately our software vendor has a clunky public interface and that is something I'd like to work on.

McClain: I believe anyone should be able to walk into any office and be treated with respect and courtesy and get clear concise answers to that question. I would ensure the accuracy and customer service of the assessor's office and that we have a decent public rapport.


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