JAMA BERRY..... Personal information: I grew up in Nixa until my junior year of high school. Then we moved to Gaines-ville, where I graduated in 1993. I currently live in Brixey on part of the farm my grandparents bought in 1944. My daughter, Kursten Suter Hamm, and her husband, Brad Hamm, have one son, Colt, 3 1/2, and one son, Cord, due in September. My son, Westley Suter, and his fiancée, Taylor Clary, plan an October wedding.
Employment and experience: During my seven years as assessor I’ve attended training conferences and have performed the daily tasks required in the job: budgeting, reading and mapping deeds, assessing personal property, measuring structures, assessing / valuing real property, entering assessment data, performing sales analyses, conducting market studies, interacting with the State Tax Commission and more. Earlier, I was in Walmart management for 10+ years involved in budgeting, scheduling, managing several employees, analyzing sales, researching internal and stopping shoplifters and external theft. In the two jobs combined, I have almost two decades of managerial experience.
Why do you want to be assessor? I enjoy the opportunity to work in and for my community. I take pride in how I’ve improved the efficiency of our assessor’s office, and I look forward to improving it even more. I have done my absolute best to ensure everyone gets fair, consistent and equal treatment.
Will this be your full-time and only job? How many hours per week do you expect to be in the office? Being assessor is my full-time job. I also have a part-time job on Friday nights and Saturdays April-October. The amount of time the assessor spends in the office depends on the time of year or what’s going on in the county. The job requires the assessor to work outside the office – for example, to measure new construction or to reassess structures for damage and possible depreciation. State law orders a total reassessment every odd-numbered year, which requires the assessor to be out of the office. Someone is always available in the office during business hours to help anyone who calls or walks in, and I can always be reached by phone.
How have you shown excellent listening skills and public service? In April 2017, after our county experienced a flood like no one here had ever experienced, we immediately jumped into action. Earlier, I had asked the county commission to enact a law allowing the assessor to prorate damaged residences. After the flood, our office helped people fill out the prorating form. We provided structure information for insurance companies when requested. And then we spent weeks in the field reassessing the damaged property – and, most importantly, listening to those who had lost everything and needed to know someone cared and was there to help them. I have an open-door policy, and I’m always happy to look at and discuss issues with taxpayers.
How have you demonstrated backbone in a business / public service setting? Many, many times the State Tax Commission has tried to get me to raise values, and I have tirelessly refused. I constantly battle to keep home values assessed as low as possible to keep taxes low. I’m not afraid to fight for our county or taxpayers. In contrast, I’ve also had occasions where taxpayers have complained about their values, sometimes politely but other times through bullying and being rude and disrespectful. Even after threats, cussing and being disrespected, I’ve continued to maintain their fair values. Being consistent is one of an assessor’s most important responsibilities. It’s not fair if neighbors’ values are lower because they complained. I will continue to treat everyone the same.
Where do you stand on putting assessor’s records online? It would be GREAT to have this convenience for our county and taxpayers and a great service to anyone who wants to file personal property assessment forms online. Those who prefer could still mail or deliver paper forms to the office. Three years ago, I got quotes from three companies that provide this service and then met with the commissioners about the possibility of sharing the setup cost ($20,000) and annual maintenance ($10,000). The Road and Bridge Department would benefit by having maps online and being able to find property owners’ names quickly and easily. Also, sheriff’s deputies, in their vehicles, could pull up a map with property owners’ information. Unfortunately, neither the commissioners nor the sheriff’s department agreed to support the idea, and there’s no way the assessor’s office can absorb that kind of expense alone. I certainly wouldn’t raise values to produce extra revenue to absorb the entire expense. One possibility is selling assessor website subscriptions to interested parties, but I doubt that would offset the cost enough to be feasible.
What distinguishes you from your opponents? When life has thrown curve balls my way, I’ve learned that to survive you have to think outside the box, work hard on your own, be able to adapt and sometimes do hard things. I have fought and worked hard for what I have. I have raised two very amazing children. I have an associate’s degree in business management. I’m blessed with a strong, supportive family. I look forward to continuing as Ozark County assessor.