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Upfront

Orange County races to watch

County's municipal stakes bring the backyard controversy

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In an election year characterized by partisan divides, outlandish campaign budgets, and constant political punditry, voters are often distracted from the races that can have the biggest impact – the local ones. While the candidates may not be the biggest dogs in the junkyard and instant name recognition is a goal achieved by few, their elected authority can affect everything from the value of your home to the amount of crime outside your door. Just because the offices are smaller, don't think they aren't important – or that campaign drama isn't lurking in the background.

Orange County Property Appraiser: Bill Donegan vs. Rick Singh

While the responsibilities of elected officials in these local races are often straightforward enough, the role of property appraiser is one that may confuse Orange County homeowners, voters, and possibly even the candidates in this election. Essentially, appraisers assess the value of residential, commercial, and industrial properties; using that value, property taxes are calculated.

State Certified Appraiser Rick Singh, a Democrat running to unseat incumbent Republican Bill Donegan, claims his opponent doesn't have the proper experience for the office.

"I firmly believe that it is not enough to be a career politician to be the property appraiser," Singh says of Donegan. "I firmly believe the requirement for this office is that someone should have appraisal background."

Though not from a traditional background in property appraisal, Donegan has held the office for nearly 12 years. He has sometimes been a controversial figure, bullying big-ticket developers until, some say, they relent and wind up listed on his campaign donor rolls. But Singh's real problems with Donegan lie in his methods of calculation.

"On average, the misassessment rate is at $100 million a year since this incumbent has been in office," says Singh. "And those are just the cases that go to the value-adjustment board."

Donegan counters that his opponent misreads these numbers for political gain; assessment rates in private practice are not the same as those utilized in county government.

"It is done differently by someone who is valuing a home to sell it," says Donegan. "I value [properties] for the purposes of taxes."

The incumbent also questions his opponent's past, specifically citing an August WFTV 9 News investigation in which Singh was confronted with some questionable campaign finance documents involving several properties he quit-claimed to his wife. According to the news report,

Singh says that he made good on any tax discrepancies involving his estimated $1.3 million in family properties.

"A guy who fills out a financial disclosure, listing properties he doesn't own and didn't pay doc stamps on, is that the kind of person you want as your property appraiser?" says Donegan.

Orange County Tax Collector: Earl K. Wood vs. Jim Huckeba

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