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Willard emphasizes experience, education in re-election bid

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“I enjoy what I am doing,” says Mark Willard, Chaves County Assessor. He faces one Republican challenger in his re-election bid. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Chaves County Assessor Mark Willard is seeking another four years in office, what he anticipates will be his last run for the office after having served almost three full terms.

Willard, 58, faces Chaves County appraiser Daniel Pruitt in the Republican primary election in June. No candidates from other parties are running for the post, which pays $65,855 a year.

“I’ve been blessed to have this job, and I’ve been fortunate to enjoy both the support and votes of the Chaves County citizens when I needed it,” Willard said. “I enjoy what I am doing, and, as the incumbent, I have one more term available to me before I am required to step down due to term limits.”

Willard was first elected to the office in 1998. He served two four-year terms, and then served in the Assessor’s Office while Ron Lethgo was County Assessor for two terms. Willard was re-elected again in 2014.

Willard said that, should he be elected, he does not foresee running for a fifth term.

He said that he has run for office before against an Assessor’s Office colleague and considers the current situation “business as usual.” He summed up the main difference between him and Pruitt as “experience, also education.”

A Roswell native, Willard has 25 years of experience working in the county assessor’s office and has numerous certifications and licenses related to his field. These include being a certified public official, a certified public assessment officer, a certified appraiser and holding a license for 22 years as a certified residential appraiser, which requires ongoing education courses.

He is a high school and junior college graduate of New Mexico Military Institute, earning an associate’s degree from the school. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration, with an emphasis in finance, from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.

His community involvement includes serving as an officer with the Roswell Kiwanis Club and the Roswell Jaycees, participating in the Leadership Roswell program, and belonging to Christ’s Church. He also has served as an officer with the New Mexico Association of Counties and the New Mexico Association of Assessing Officers.

He is the father of two grown daughters, Katy and Haley, who live in Albuquerque.

Willard talks with pride about an Assessor’s Office with more than 11 employees that has earned respect from the New Mexico Property Tax Division and other assessor’s offices in the state.

“We have a lot of counties calling Ron (Lethgo, now chief deputy assessor) and I asking how to do things,” he said.

He also points to the hiring of Randy Kincaid as chief appraiser four years ago as an indication of the office’s strength. Kincaid joined after serving in an assessor’s office in a large city in Massachusetts and with the state Property Tax Division 10 years.

“He said there were only two counties in the state that he would consider working for and we were one of them,” said Willard, “so to me, he worked for Property Tax, so that was just showing how well received we are.”

Willard said his accomplishments in the Assessor’s office over the past decades include not only striving to provide “efficient, courteous and knowledgeable” service but also being part of the effort to update processes from hand-drawn and pen and paper methods to computer-based systems with a shared software system. Information that used to be available to property owners only by calling in or stopping by the office is now available on the web.

“Everything in our office is on computers and on the same platform,” he said. “Much of our data, including the maps with aerial photography, are available online to the public.” He also said that the office now will email the Notice of Value statements upon request.

If re-elected, he said he would aim to keep up with technological advancements, invest in staff training and continue what he characterized as the never-ending effort to improve assessment procedures and processes.

The Assessor’s Office under Willard’s leadership has come in for criticism at times. In a recent situation, a county resident launched an appeal process that resulted in a finding that valuations had been calculated incorrectly and a refund was owed. The property owner forwarded complaints to state officials, claiming, among other things, that the Chaves County office was charging two property owners taxes on the same piece of land and that the assessor’s staff had been lackadaisical at best in their data gathering and analysis.

Willard and County Manager Stanton Riggs have denied the claims made by the property owner, and no official actions have resulted at this time from the individual’s complaints.

“Property Tax, when asked by the (New Mexico Department of) Taxation and Revenue, said we were an exemplary county,” Willard said, adding that he has never encountered a similar situation in 25 years.

According to a campaign finance report, Willard has raised $4,200 in donations from friends and colleagues, including Lethgo, his campaign treasurer.

The report indicated he had spent only $26.25 by April 8, but he said he also has purchased about $2,700 worth of campaign signs. He said he can’t say at this point how much he will be spending in the campaign.

Willard’s challenger, Republican Daniel Pruitt, did not respond for comment by press time.

Pruitt joined the Chaves County Assessor’s Office in 2014 after serving with the U.S. Army from 2011 to 2013. He also runs an RV storage site business.

A Roswell native, Pruitt is making his first run for public office. He holds an associate’s degree in business administration from Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell and is working on a bachelor’s degree from ENMU in Portales.

In an earlier interview, Pruitt said that he has nothing against Willard’s tenure but thinks taxpayers might want a new person in office, noting that Lethgo and Willard have been exchanging the seat between themselves for many years. Lethgo was first elected to the office in 1988.

“I think I could bring a new set of eyes,” Pruitt said, adding that his goals would include improved staff training and increased use of social media and technology to better inform property owners.

Pruitt’s finance disclosure form indicated he had raised $1,135, mostly from anonymous donors, and had spent about $1,029 on campaign signs and promotional items by April 8.

The primary election is June 5. General elections occur Nov. 6.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.