Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
The two Democrats running for Bernalillo County assessor both have a history working with the office.
Stephen A. Sais and Damian R. Lara are vying to fill the seat being vacated by Tanya Giddings, who cannot run again because of term limits. There are no Republicans running for the post.
Sais, 39, has held positions with the Assessor’s Office for nearly two decades and under three administrations. He is currently the manager of the residential appraisal section, is a certified residential and commercial appraiser, and trains other assessors.
The Assessor’s Office, Sais explained, “is responsible for valuing all taxable property fairly and equitably for property tax purposes, and applying all applicable exemptions.” This includes residential, commercial and business personal property, including livestock, he said.
The county assessor is an important position “because the majority of our local government is funded through property taxes,” he said.
One of the biggest issues facing the office relates to New Mexico being a “partial non-disclosure state.” Commercial property sales do not require a sales affidavit, Sais said, “making it extremely difficult” for the Assessor’s Office to attach an accurate and equitable value to those properties. And unlike residential properties that are subject to a 3% yearly cap on the increase in value, commercial properties can be assessed at the full current market value every year.
But only when a commercial property owner feels the property has been over-assessed and wishes to appeal the appraised value is the owner willing to provide the Assessor’s Office with further documentation, Sais said.
For the last four or five legislative sessions he has been part of discussions to update the disclosure laws as they apply to commercial property. “I hope to continue that moving forward,” he said.
Sais, a graduate of Del Norte High School and a Marine Corps veteran, has been married for nearly 13 years to his wife, Ashley, a medical credentialist for Presbyterian Hospital. They have two daughters, age 10 and 7, both of whom attend St. Mary’s Catholic School.
Lara, 44, formerly was a Bernalillo County deputy assessor, the economic development director for the city of Albuquerque and the lead staff attorney for the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee. He is currently an attorney with the Calderon Law Firm, specializing in real estate and property. He is also a state certified appraiser.
The county assessor position is important, he said, because the taxes paid on the property assessments help to “fund our infrastructure, our school capital outlay, our bonding and our GO (general obligation) bonds.” All of which ultimately help fund government.
“I have management experience, I’ve led the office. I have experience administering the constitutional and statutory requirements of the office, and I am a state certified appraiser,” Lara said. “So not only can I put a value on the office and know how to do that, I also know how to administer the entire gamut of the office.”
One of the issues he hopes to address should he be elected as county assessor is why commercial properties have declined in value over the last five or six years, he said.
Lara was born in Mexico and his family came to the United States when he was 6 years old. They lived in the area of Melrose and Clovis and worked in the local fields. “I pulled potatoes out of the ground and worked the onion fields in the summers,” he said.
Lara graduated from Riverside High School in El Paso. He then attended Brown University for his undergraduate degree and the University of New Mexico where he received his law degree.
He met his wife, Iris, also a lawyer, when they were in law school. They have been married since 2008.