County officials settle dispute over possible tax calculation delay

A dispute between two elected officials that had the potential to impact homebuyers may have come to a solution after all.

The issue began with a concern over the ability to process excise transactions, which could have delayed home closings. However, Tuesday afternoon the county treasurer’s office and assessor’s office announced solutions to avoid delays.

On Dec. 24, Island County Treasurer Wanda Grone notified local escrow companies that a software update was required for excise transactions and that the assessor “refused” to install it until after levy certifications were complete, which is required to be done by Jan. 15.

Although Island County Assessor Mary Engle had decided to postpone the update, she said, she didn’t believe doing so would halt all transactions during that time period.

“We question the treasurer’s authority to shut down commerce in Island County and our office is actively seeking direction from higher authority on what should be done to alter her position,” Engle wrote in a statement Monday.

The update was made available in late December and requires approval from the treasurer and assessor.

Engle said similar updates in the past have resulted in computer-generated errors in levy calculations, so she decided to postpone the update until her office is finished with the work.

The treasurer’s Dec. 24 notice asked that concerns be directed to the assessor and provided Engle’s direct line.

Upon returning to the office Dec. 26, Engle said she found her email and phone deluged with concerns. This came as a surprise, however, because she didn’t know about the treasurer’s notice.

Tuesday afternoon, Engle released a statement confirming that her office and Snohomish County had completed the calculations early and the software update could immediately be installed.

Before this announcement, she had questioned the treasurer’s assertion that excise transactions needed to halt.

“The treasurer has so far been unwilling to compromise in anyway and despite numerous requests has still given no clear reason for her rejection of the calculator and her unilateral statement there would be no closings between 1/15/20,” a press release from the assessor’s office states. “The fact is, the treasurer can process real estate excise transactions and is choosing not to.”

Grone said she had been actively searching for a work around and was told by the software vendor that one didn’t exist. She said she also asked staff members at the Department of Revenue if they had suggestions.

Tuesday afternoon, Grone announced she had worked with the auditor to find a temporary solution to avoid delays. Although, this became unnecessary after the assessor’s announcement an hour later declaring the software update could be completed.

Both announcements expressed regret that the situation became such an issue and stressful for members of the public. However, both officials stood by the actions of their offices.

Grone had said she felt it “was completely necessary to inform our customers of the possible complication in January.”

Engle said she hoped that “elected officials can maintain open and honest communication” so that “issues like these can be resolved without unnecessarily inciting chaos … ”

  • This is an updated version of an earlier story

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