GRANGEVILLE — It’s time for James Zehner to step down.
Having served as Idaho County Assessor since his election in 2006, Zehner announced his intention to retire at the end of the year, Dec. 31, with two years left on his remaining four-year term. Last Tuesday, Oct. 20, Zehner informed the Idaho County Commission, and — as he is a Republican — later that evening at the meeting of the Idaho County Republican Central Committee (ICRCC).
What happens next, the ICRCC is charged with recommending three persons to the Idaho County Commission, which from these will make the appointment, and that person will fill the remaining two years of the term. The last time this happened in Idaho County was in 2012 with the early retirement of treasurer Sharon Cox.
“I’ve been here 34 years; it’s time,” Zehner said on his decision, which he had been pondering on during the summer. “I’ll be 60 in January, and that’s the age I’ve wanted to retire at.”
Of his 34 years, 14 of those have been as county assessor, the 13th since Idaho County was incorporated. He was hired as an appraiser in 1986, worked 14 years here, and then put in seven years in the GIS (geographic information system) department with rural addressing and parcel mapping. His public service as assessor briefly overlapped with a second elected position; he served on the Grangeville City Council from 2004 to 2008.
“There is interest in the office to replace me,” Zehner said, though any names won’t be public until they go through the formal ICRCC interviewing process.
Requirements for county assessor are basic: The person must be at least age 21, a qualified elector, and have resided in Idaho County for one year preceding the general election.
The person Zehner would want to see fill the position would ideally have experience in the office, understanding of the property tax code, as well as be a certified appraiser in Idaho.
“I can’t imagine going into the job without having some experience in property appraisal,” he said, which to be certified includes two years of on-the-job training and completing two state-offered courses.
“There are some assessors that go into the job without having certification,” Zehner said. “In larger counties, I don’t think it would be that important as they play more the role of a manager. But in mid-size counties, the assessors usually do a lot of work themselves.”
The Idaho County assessor oversees 14 personnel involved in property assessment, parcel mapping, and motor vehicle department for auto licensing and registrations.
When Zehner first started in 1986, the county operated with three IBM mainframe computers, which later transitioned into a PC-based system with network capability, and introduction of the Internet and computerized parcel mapping in 1998. The computer appraisal system has advanced during these years, he said, with changes planned by the state in the next five: The state tax commission plans to consolidate all the counties into one system, which will cause some “change pains,” he said, but will allow the state to support just one instead of the three in use across Idaho.
“Being the assessor wasn’t the job I planned as a kid,” he said. “Most assessors fall into the job rather than plan for it.” A lasting benefit of his time with the county was in exploring it as part of his job. “Before I started here, I’d never been to Woodland or Glenwood or Joseph Plains,” but as a result he’s had a chance to go to areas and communities across the county, and meet a diversity of people from all corners of it.
“I’m hoping for a smooth transition,” Zehner said with his replacement, who will be coming in as the state continues to stabilize recent system changes made in the DMV department. Meanwhile, he’ll be finishing up his remaining work heading into his last day on New Year’s Eve. After this, his plans call for helping on the family farm outside town, and he is considering some small business ideas to start up. On that last, he added, “I’ll cross that bridge later,” he smiled.