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Commissioners choose Stewart as next assessor

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Sandra Stewart will become the Chaves County assessor on May 1. Elected official Mark Willard has resigned, effective April 30. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The new Chaves County assessor will be Sandra Stewart following the unanimous decision Thursday by the Chaves County Board of Commissioners to appoint her to fill the unexpired term of Mark Willard.

Stewart has been chief deputy assessor since Ron Lethgo’s retirement in November. She will assume the new position on May 1. The assessor position pays $75,333 a year. The assessor oversees an office with about 11 employees who determine valuations for properties in Chaves County, with the valuations used as the basis for property taxes.

Willard, who was elected to his fourth term as assessor in November 2018, submitted his resignation to county officials on March 23. His last day will be April 30, and commissioners have proclaimed it as Mark Willard Day in Chaves County in his honor.

“It has been a blessing and privilege to work with Chaves County for all these years,” Willard said. “Ron and I have made a great team. We were one of the premier assessment offices in the state. I have some things I want to accomplish, and I feel I need to retire to get them done. It has been my honor to work for the county.”

The current term that Stewart is filling ends Dec. 31, 2022, but she told commissioners that she intends to run for the position in November 2022. Commissioner Dara Dana pledged to support her in that endeavor.

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“I have a long history with Chaves County,” Stewart said. “I am a loyal soldier for you. I have had great respect for Ron Lethgo and Mark Willard my entire career. They approached me about coming back and coming to work for them a year ago as the chief appraiser. Since then, I have been chief appraiser and chief deputy assessor.”

She continued in her remarks by saying that she recognized the challenges ahead.

“I have a steep learning curve ahead of me and really big shoes to fill should you choose me,” Stewart said. “I want you to know that I know that, but I will do my very best to maintain the excellent reputation that they have had throughout the state and country.”

Stewart chose not to answer additional questions following the meeting, saying through another staff member that she might be available to comment after May 1.

Willard is the latest among senior, long-serving officials who have retired from the county in the past six months. Resignations that occurred in November and December included Lethgo; Clayton Corn, former Chaves County Detention Center administrator; Stanton Riggs, former county manager who still serves as needed as county attorney; and Joe Sedillo, former chief financial officer. In addition, Robert Corn and Dave Kunko were elected officials whose terms as commissioner and county clerk had ended.

Willard, a Roswell native, has been with the county assessor’s office for more than 28 years. He was an appraiser, chief deputy assessor and assessor. A Republican, he was elected to the assessor position in 1998, serving two four-year terms until 2006. Term limits prevented another run at that time, so he served as chief deputy assessor under Lethgo while Lethgo served two four-year terms. Willard was reelected assessor in November 2014 and November 2018, choosing Lethgo and then Stewart as chief deputy assessors.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.