DALLAS — When former Polk County Assessor Doug Schmidt began working as a property appraiser in the office almost 29 years ago, changes to properties had to measured and calculated by hand.
“We used to do everything with paper, pencil, ruler and tape measure,” Schmidt said last week. “Measuring houses, doing the calculations, drawing the sketches and it just took a long time.”
After almost three decades in the office, Schmidt retired in February, leaving an office that now does much of its work electronically. These days appraisers take laptops in the field and enter changes to properties — such as a new patio or driveway — which are then uploaded to the county assessor’s database.
“Everything else is in the system and it will recalculate that automatically,” Schmidt said. “So that’s probably been the biggest thing, the use of computers and updated assessment and taxation programs that will do the calculations for us.”
Schmidt served as the elected assessor for 10 years, and leaves with almost two years left on his term. The Polk County Board of Commissioners appointed Valerie Patoine, formerly the chief appraiser, to serve as interim assessor.
“I just felt that it was time to retire. I’m 66 and I’ve been doing this for 29 years, 10 as the assessor,” Schmidt said on Feb. 27 his second to last day in office. “It seemed like a good time to step away and let somebody else take over.”
His career began after he served in the military. He attended Chemeketa Community College’s real estate program and graduated as an appraiser.
“I graduated from that and got hired on at the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs as an appraiser. It’s a home loan they had for veterans,” Schmidt said. “I did that for 10 years.”
He worked for a private firm for a while before being laid off when it downsized. Schmidt was unemployed when a job in the Polk County Assessor’s Office opened. He was hired as an appraiser and worked his way through the divisions to eventually become the chief appraiser.
“It was a great opportunity because as a small office, you get to do a lot of things,” Schmidt said. “In a large office, you are kind of pigeonholed as what you are and that is what you are going to be.”
When the former assessor announced he would retire, Schmidt, who had already unsuccessfully run for assessor in Marion County where he lived, moved to Dallas. He decided to run for Polk County’s office and won.
Schmidt served as the president of the assessors’ association in 2013-14 and as the chairman of the assessors’ legislative committee in 2017 during a session in which the Oregon Legislature took up several bills affecting property taxes.
“I was over at the Capitol a lot,” he said.
The association’s interest is in making sure bills are clear on how new policy is supposed to be administered, Schmidt said.
“A lot of what we look for is clarity. If we can’t get clarity as an association, we are going to be in litigation because we will interpret it this way,” he said. “The taxpayer will think it should be this way, so the mechanism is to go through the courts, the tax court, which costs everybody money. It takes time and that’s why we really try to push to get things clarified in the bill before it goes to statute.”
Many of the main duties of the assessor — namely preparing the year-end property tax bills — happen once a year, which make the processes difficult to master. When Schmidt took over, his former boss agreed to double check his work the first year.
Schmidt has offered to be “on retainer” to give the same assistance to Valerie Patoine, the interim assessor. She said Schmidt has been her mentor since she was hired 16 years ago.
“We started out as co-workers, and he was my go-to person for explanation. He is a really good teacher and is patient in explaining things. I was new to the appraiser world. I took classes and got a job,” she said. “I started from nothing except just some classes, so Doug explained a lot of the processes to me. Just always kind and willing to answer my questions.”
Schmidt said he doesn’t have big plans for the beginning of his retirement. He’s taking a road trip in the spring and will help his mom with property upkeep in the coming months.
“I’ll probably be drinking a lot of coffee with retired friends,” Schmidt said, smiling.