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Jeb Bladine: More than numbers for former assessor

My old friend Linda Stephenson died on June 30 after a long, courageous and graceful confrontation with health and mortality. That date also was the last day for Oregon governmental bodies to certify their budgets for the next fiscal year.

This coincidental calendar connection seems appropriate, since Linda spent 25 years working in the Yamhill County Assessor’s Office — the last 12 as our only female assessor.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

When Linda took office in 1989, Oregonians were at the height of their angst over the state’s roller-coaster property tax system. It wasn’t unusual for voters to voice frustration by defeating incumbent assessors for following laws outside their control, but Linda gained the full confidence of local voters.

In 1990, Oregon limited property tax rates with Measure 5, which Linda helped shape into workable statewide taxation practices. But taxpayer distress continued during a convoluted journey toward 1997 passage of Measure 50, which set strict limits on assessment values for taxable property.

I’m not saying current Assessor Derrick Wharff has it easy over at the courthouse, but that was a much more volatile workplace when run by Linda Stephenson and her predecessors.

Back then, when taxpayers were hit with huge, unexpected tax increases, the assessor became a natural target for their annoyance. Those waters were calmed by the laws Linda and her fellow Oregon assessors implemented during the 1990s.

Today, there still are wrinkles affecting property values and taxes, and few people understand the complex formulas that determine taxable assessment values for new developments. But one thing is certain: Most property taxpayers will see an annual 3 percent tax increase.

Wharff and his staff have fired up the 2019-20 property tax machinery. All individual property situations and system formulas have to be crunched into final appraisals and tax assessments to be announced in October, with few surprises.

For me, interest in understanding those assessment numbers and formulas has been both personal and professional, and I always spoke with Linda to reaffirm the facts and policies we were reporting in the newspaper. But those dry conversations always gave way to other common interests.

We often bemoaned the demise of Oregon’s “Moderate Republican” party — she was a leader in the local party until its control took a strong religious-right tilt. We shared the challenges and fulfillments of families, civic affairs and a vibrant community. We both enjoyed great Pinot Noir.

Linda was a good soul, and like so many good souls in our community, will be missed.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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