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Reassessment still key to commissioner race

Blair County’s reassessment project remains a foremost topic for those seeking county commissioner seats, even though almost three years have passed since the project generated new property values to use in calculating 2017 real estate taxes.

“You can’t fix the past as much as you can plan ahead and make the future better,” incumbent Commissioner Bruce Erb said Tuesday night as he and fellow commissioner candidates Ted Beam Jr., Laura Burke and Amy Webster fielded questions before a group of about 40 at the Bavarian Hall.

The Blair County Tea Party and Indivisible Blair County sponsored the event and invited the four candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot. The top three vote recipients will take office on Jan. 1.

To plan for a future reassessment, Erb said he thinks it’s important for the county to encourage employees in its assessment office to pursue more education as property evaluators. That way, Erb said, the county office will be in a position to handle tasks previously handled by an outside firm.

“Simplify the appeal process,” Webster said in response to the question about reassessment recommendations. “Some properties still have values that are too high.”

Better communication and education is needed, Burke said, and the county’s board of appeals needs to be well-trained.

Beam acknowledged that he was the only one of the four candidates who was in a position to vote in favor of pursuing reassessment.

“After 58 years, it was time,” Beam said. “And the commissioners knew it had to be done.”

Beam also asked people to ask themselves if they would consider selling their home for the value assigned through reassessment. If the answer is “yes,” then reassessment worked, Beam said.

The candidates were also asked for comments and ideas on several other topics, including how well the county is prepared for emergencies, what can be done to reduce child sexual abuse, creative ways to fight illegal drug use and if commissioners are willing to protect Second Amendment rights.

Candidates also were asked if they were ready to go on record against increasing real estate taxes in 2020.

“Not yet,” Beam responded.

“No,” Erb added.

Webster and Burke said they didn’t think the question applied to them since they don’t currently hold office. But all commissioners elected in November and take office in January have the option of reopening the 2020 budget and making changes to line items, personnel and tax levies.

In answering a question about their support for the Second Amendment, Erb, Beam and Webster acknowledged owning guns and Beam said he takes his gun to work every day.

Burke, an advocate for victims of domestic violence, offered no similar support and named gun ownership as a factor increasing the success of suicide attempts.

Indivisible Blair County member Bill Fairer of Altoona said he didn’t make up his mind on who to vote for during the event. But he said he appreciated the candidates’ responses to the variety of questions.

“I found this event to be very informative,” said Harriet Gaston of Altoona. “Attending something like this was educational and helps me understand what the commissioners do … It’s also helping me clarify who I will vote for.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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