The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Hajek, Keller on Ballot for Cheyenne County Assessor

 

September 15, 2022 | View PDF

The Sidney Sun-Telegraph reached out to candidates for Cheyenne County Assessor to offer a few questions. Melody Keller is the incumbent and Jordan Hajek is the petition challenger. Hajek contacted the Sun-Telegraph September 7 to verify she was on the ballot.

Below are the questions and each candidates response:

Name as it appears on the ballot: Mel Keller

Position you are seeking: Cheyenne County Assessor

How long have you lived in Cheyenne County? I have proudly called Cheyenne County my home since 1978. This is where I graduated from High School and College, where I have raised my children and they have graduated from high school. Now some of my grandchildren are attending school here and will also graduate from a Cheyenne County School. The small town values of caring for and respecting your neighbors, integrity of the hard working people of this county, and the fact that we as Cheyenne County residents are known for building people up, not running them down, is why we all love this county so much.

Have you worked in an assessor's office here or at another county in Nebraska? I have worked at the Cheyenne County Assessor's Office since 2011. I am honored to say I was overwhelmingly elected as Assessor in November of 2018 and sworn in as Assessor in January of 2019.

What encouraged you to seek office? I bring a passion for getting the job done on time in the Assessor's Office. Being honest, the job as the County Assessor is not a glamorous position and at times is very difficult. I am still up for the challenge. I have always tried to serve the people of this community in some fashion and want to continue to do so.

I am seeking office again as I know this county very well, know many of the properties and know the people. I work hard to try to keep valuations as low as I can while still meeting the requirements of the position.

What do you see as the role of the county assessor? The role of the Assessor is to calculate an informed and educated opinion of value of all real and personal property in the county by using a fair and equitable method based on the rules and regulations they are governed by.

Here is a list of just some of the other responsibilities the office of the Assessor has:

1. Recording all information regarding sales or transfers of properties into our computer system so that correct ownership is applied.

2. Keeping record of Obituary notices that are used by the Treasurer's Office, the Clerk of District Court for Jury information, Homestead Applicant Information for the Assessor's Office and for Attorneys

3. Homestead Exemption Applications - receiving, reviewing, and entering the application information into the State database. Homestead Exemptions are for people who are 65 or older or meet certain disability guidelines, own and occupy their homes from January 1st to August 15th of the application year, and meet certain income guidelines. With this exemption, the state may pay some or all of the applicants taxes for them.

4. Oil and Gas - The Assessor's Office tracks all producing wells in the county.

5. Airplanes - Per regulations the Assessor's Office has to keep track of all commercial type plains in the County by sending out an Airplane report to the Airport Authority to complete.

6. Igloos - Igloos in use and not in use in the county are tracked

7. Land use - Assessor and staff track agricultural land use such as irrigated, dry, grass or a conservation reserve program

8. Buildings - Any and all structures in the county have to be tracked and reviewed a minimum of once every six years. The preferable way to review is by speaking with the owners and reviewing internally as well as externally to check for usage and condition of structures, but buildings can also be reviewed externally if access is not granted and an estimate of internal condition is formulated based on exterior appearance and experience of the staff member.

9. Personal Property - This would be better named "business property" as it refers to equipment used in the operation of a business or farm or ranch.

There are many more duties of the Assessor such as payroll, budgeting, three-year plan of assessment, Certificate of Taxable Value reports, inputting the levy information received from the taxing entities into the computer system, exemption information for charitable, educational or religious entities, sending all sales information into the State of Nebraska, reviewing all staff work and so much more.

What assets, issues do you see in the assessor's office? The assets of the Assessor's Office are its current staff. We work hard every day with daunting deadlines, rules and regulations and massive amounts of information to learn, translate and input into our computer system. Issues are, we understand that this office is necessary for the County to function as a whole. Without the value assessment process the communities in which we live in would not be able to formulate the calculations needed to create their budgets and levies.

While no one likes to pay taxes, we are aware that this is a necessary process in order for our communities to have the money needed for our law enforcement, schools, road departments, local colleges, cemeteries, county, city and village governments all to function. Taxes are a fact of life. The Assessor's Office is responsible for assessing the values on which the taxes are levied. We are not responsible for the levy itself.

What do you bring to the office of the assessor? Having been in the Assessor's Office since 2011 and elected as the Assessor in 2018, I have a vast experience in the rules and regulations that govern the position. Since elected I have worked hard, taking many classes to stay up to date with changes in legislation. I have acquired over 250 hours of additional training since taking office.

I am dedicated to giving my staff the best environment to work in. I myself have worked many late nights and evenings to meet deadlines. Often times I work these extra hours so my staff does not have to work as many. As an experienced manager of staff members, I am able to keep track of how the tasks are coming along and make the executive decision that requiring overtime is sometimes necessary. In the Assessor's Office, there are many statute regulated deadlines that have to be met, no exceptions.

Why should voters choose you for the office of assessor? As stated above, I have the experience, maturity, training and dedication to get the job done. I understand that the duties of the Assessor are not always popular but that they need to be done. I have worked hard to change the environment in the Assessor's Office to be a more approachable one. My staff and I have been told many times that it is nice to walk into my office and be greeted with smiles by people who are eager to help.

I have stated before that I worked for a company who printed on their paychecks "proudly brought to you by your customer" and I still believe this holds true for my office. I strive to make people feel that they can come to us with concerns.

Being in any government positions holds its challenges and you can't please everyone. We just have to keep in mind that the silent majority understands us and know we respect them and are doing the best job we can for the County as a whole.

Tell voters about your background. Vocational, educational. Having lived in Cheyenne County for over forty years and calling it my home, I have made it a point to be involved in the community as a volunteer. This is a list of just of few of the things I have helped with in the past or are currently helping with:

CERT - Community Emergency Response Team- current member

Children's Church Educator, AWANA instructor and Sunday school teacher

Panhandle Prevention Coalition- strategic planning for the awareness and determent of underage drinking

Youth As Resources Mentor YAR Sidney Schools - mentoring 4th grade students

Early Childhood Advocates Former Member - working with colleges and Nebraska Department of Education to bring training to local childcare providers

Rocktoberfest Co-Planner & Volunteer - local dance for teens - planning, promoting, fund raising, and supervising

Hay Day Festival Co-Coordinator & Volunteer - former local fall event free to families ran similar to a penny carnival where families can wear their costumes and get prizes and candy

Class field trip parent volunteer for my six children and some of my grandchildren's classes

Cub Scout Leader

Dalton Fall Festival

My educational background lies mostly in Cheyenne County. I graduated from Sidney High School. I graduated from Western Nebraska Community College Sidney Campus with Highest Honors and was on the Dean's List and President's List while finishing my bachelor's degree in education with an emphasis in math from Chadron State College. My leadership skills were recognized by my college classmates and I was elected as Phi Theta Kappa National Honors Society President and was invited by the Governor of Nebraska to attend the National Leadership Forum.

My work ethics are impeccable. I have been promoted to leadership or supervisory roles in every position I have ever held. I was the Cool Kids K-3 program director and Co-director of the K-8 program. I spent many years not only working a full time job, but often times one or two part time jobs as well. No matter what the job is, I will give it my all.

Name as it appears on the ballot: Jordan B. Hajek

Position you are seeking. Cheyenne County Assessor

How long have you lived in Cheyenne County? I was born and raised in Cheyenne County.

Have you worked in an assessor's office here or at another county in Nebraska? I worked in the Assessor's Office in Cheyenne County for a little over three years. I started in January 2019 and left the office in March 2022. I received my Certificate and became the Deputy County Assessor in May 2020.

What encouraged you to seek office? I decided to run for office because I have lived here all my life and I am raising my children in this community. I would like to see this community continue to thrive providing a future for my children, a future for all the current residents, as well as the future of any residents who join Cheyenne County from here going forward.

What do you see as the role of the county assessor? I fully believe that as an Assessor you need to be involved with the public. You need to be an active participant within the community, be available when the community has questions, and yet be able to go out in the field for training and assessing right alongside of your team. "Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is about growing others."

What assets, issues do you see in the assessor's office? Fortunately, there are staff members with the knowledge set whom I worked with prior and if I am elected, I look forward to having them on my team. The collaboration of the County office departments within Cheyenne County as well as being able to work with other County Assessors are both advantages and I look forward to maintaining those relationships as the County Assessor. With my analyzing background from Cabela's, there have been a lot of issues I have questioned within the current Assessor office, and I would like the chance to gain clarity for myself, and then communicate that to the taxpayers of Cheyenne County. As a State employee, I am bound to uphold the policies in place for valuations, thus I am not able to make empty promises about lowering taxes, but I can promise my commitment to researching and making the effort to find a plan that could shift how the valuations are assessed to help the County. The assessed values are strictly based off sales in the County, but that is only half of the equation for determining taxes.

What do you bring to the office of the assessor? The job of the Deputy Assessor, which I was previously, is to be able to jump in and do everything in case something happens to the Assessor. I know how to do almost all the duties of the Assessor. If I am elected as the County Assessor any job duties I do now know how to do, I will make sure I learn.

I have worked alongside two different third-party assessing companies learning different methods for assessing properties here in Cheyenne County. I have personally gone out and helped assess Sidney, Lorenzo, Gurley, Dalton and some rural properties. I have already established relationships with surrounding County Assessors to benefit from their experience and knowledge.

I will listen to hear what taxpayers are facing, I will provide education to those who might not understand and I will be willing to communicate with the public in a professional manner.

Why should voters choose you for the office of assessor?

I will create an environment that is focused on communication and open to the taxpayers to come in, express their concerns to either the staff or myself, and work together to achieve a solution. My goal is to be active in the assessing process and a diligent participant of the community any chance I get.

I will do everything in my power, under the required State regulations and statutes, to help this community continue to flourish and provide economic stability for the future, and the children.

 

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