The Haines Borough Assembly unanimously voted to end its contract with assessor Michael Dahle at the end of the year after nearly 600 residents signed a petition calling for his removal.
The petition gained hundreds of signatures in less than a week after it was released to the public on Monday, Nov. 6. The resident-led call for action follows a summer of public backlash after some residents saw a dramatic rise in their property assessments and resulting tax bills. Borough officials have said the rise in property values is the result of a hot residential real estate market and corrections for out-of-date assessments.
Dahle, a contract assessor, was hired by the borough this spring after the previous assessor died. His contract was set to automatically renew with the borough at the end of the year, but the petitioners sought to oust him before that happened.
The assembly received a formal call for action to cancel the contract renewal with the assessor from Paul Rogers, one of the residents leading the petition. He included a list of the 587 signatures of residents who backed the decision.
“It shows you that there is tremendous concerns by the public for the tax assessment process that took place this year,” he said at the meeting.
The assembly decision will be mean “some disruption” to the borough’s assessment process, according to manager Annette Kreitzer. But 2023 assessment values will stand unless the assembly takes further action to change them.
Dahle committed to serving the remainder of his contract through the end of the year, Kreitzer said.
Rogers called the borough’s hiring of Dahle “a serious mistake,” and criticized the borough’s process along with Dahle’s credentials. Dahle was not present at the meeting and has not responded to multiple attempts by CVN to comment on the petition.
Comments about “threatening” remarks said by the assessor and the lands department have been raised by multiple residents throughout the assessment process and were brought up again during the meeting.
“Mr. Dahle used tactics equivalent to extortion, in my opinion, to get appellants to accept excessive property tax assessments,” he said. “Many people in Haines are totally disgusted by the assessment tactics used.”
Borough manager Annette Kreitzer said she was aware throughout the assessment process that some individual appellants felt “threatened” by the language the department used.
“I will say it’s a fault of mine as not seeing that as something where people felt threatened, that they felt — to use Mr. Rogers’ words — that they felt that it was extortion,” she said. “That’s a very strong reaction and I was surprised by that.”
Rogers and the petition cited Dahle’s lack of a certification with the Alaska Association of Assessing Officers and license with the State of Alaska Board of Certified Real Estate Appraisers.
According to the borough, Dahle previously worked in Washington state and has more than 20 years of experience in assessments in both Washington and Alaska. Dahle told CVN in an August interview he grew up in Ketchikan and has worked in Haines and Juneau as an assessor, and trained assessors in 39 counties in Washington state.
His contract states he will be paid at a rate of $125 per hour in an amount not to exceed $100,000 over the course of the year.
Though he is not currently accredited by the Alaska Association of Assessing Officers, accreditation is not a requirement to work in the state. According to state assessor Joe Caissie in a previous response to CVN, many municipalities in Alaska do not require AAAO certification.
In an email response to the CVN, Kreitzer said residents who claim that Dahle is not qualified are “incorrect.” She said the borough went through a rigorous process before hiring him, including consulting with the state assessor to verify he was qualified.
Despite the unanimous vote, multiple assembly members during the meeting expressed hesitancy to decide on Tuesday night without first consulting Dahle. Assembly member Kevin Forster called the action a potential “knee-jerk to feel better because we’re angry.”
Other members questioned whether the assembly should wait to take action until seeking guidance from a new community-led ad hoc committee — that has yet to be officially formed — to look at changes to the borough’s property tax assessment process.
Assembly member Craig Loomis — who motioned for the vote — disagreed with those concerns. He argued that “we already know what the public wants.”
Assembly member Natalie Dawson said the petition illustrated that residents “don’t feel comfortable with the current process.”
“Sometimes you just have to make a decision because you’re not going to be able to move
forward under a current structure,” she said. “I feel like the petition and Mr. Rogers’ statement is saying ‘we want change now in order to continue to move forward.’”
Mayor Tom Morphet said he had been making calls before the meeting to different assessors in Alaska to inquire if they would be willing to serve in the role in Haines.
“There is a limited number of contract assessors operating in Alaska,” he said.
He recommended against the assembly taking the action to cancel the contract Tuesday night, saying that the borough did not have a plan in place for his replacement.