County reorganizes its most publicly used department

Tulare County Assessor/Clerk-Recorder’s Office adds employees for the first time in 50 years, digitizes millions in property records to better serve taxpayers

TULARE COUNTY–  Tulare County’s most public department is taking strides to keep up with the increasing demands of a growing population. 

On June 28, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a reorganization of the Assessor/Clerk-Recorder’s Office to update operations and better serve taxpayers by going paperless and adding employees.

The changes were initiated by Tara Freitas, a former deputy who was appointed to lead the office last April. She has brought new ideas to the department, including several changes to office culture and technology.

“Alongside the technological advances our department is already making, [this reorganization] will set us up well to provide the level of customer service we all feel our taxpayers deserve into the future,” Freitas said. 

The reorganization includes: five new full-time positions, four entry level and one managerial, the elimination of one full time position, amend 21 full time positions and classifications, reclassify 19 full time positions and also increase equity salaries for three full time employees. 

The size of the County Assessor/Clerk-Recorder office has not changed in nearly half a century. As of this year, the office had the same employees as it did in 1970 despite the population growing from 196,100 in 1970 to 477,054 this year. Freitas said that without any technological advances, their workload has gone through the roof.

“Taking over the department, there was just some need for change,” Freitas said. “Nothing negative to do with the last last assessor or anything, but just kind of, fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, just looking for ways to provide the best level of service we can to the taxpayer.”

Freitas said she hopes to receive approval from the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at a meeting on July 7. After the final approval, Freitas will then be able to begin the hiring process for the additional employees.

The majority of employment changes are happening within the administrative services division, which is exclusive to the assessor’s side of the consolidated department, responsible for updating property ownership, “arguably one of our department’s most time critical processes.” 

If not dealt with in a timely manner, the delays could result in important tax bills going to the wrong location. The administrative team also determines whether or not a recorded document needs reassessment, which affects an appraiser’s ability to determine the value and tax rate of property.

This restructuring will eliminate a vacant position, allowing the department to add an additional chief of property transfers and split the job into two departments. Freitas said the shift will allow employees to more clearly focus on their primary function. The other new positions are entry level jobs to help with the high volume of work. 

As Freitas analyzed the departments, she realized there was a need for an additional layer of leadership. She said this proposal creates an additional rung in the career ladder. “We believe that adding these two professional growth opportunities will not only provide additional supervisorial support, but also help reduce turnover,” Freitas said. 

On the clerk/recorder side of things, Freitas will add a position called clerk recorder manager. This position will relieve pressure on the staff and provide more efficient services. Some existing jobs will also be reclassified to make advertising and recruiting easier. 

With the help of her colleagues, the department has created a new mission, vision and guiding values for employees to follow. Freitas consulted different assessors across the state to learn how to best operate her department. She worked with human resources, held exit interviews and analyzed patterns to gather information to make better decisions for her employees. 

She created a document and hung it up in the office to codify the renewed mission, vision and guided values of the department to remind them of the ‘why’ behind their work. 

“This document serves as the guideposts of where we’re steering our organization,” Freitas said told the supervisors. “These principles, behaviors and values highlight our priorities as a department now and into the future. As our values state, our focus is on empowering our employees, evaluating our processes, and maximizing our productivity.”

The total fiscal impact of the reorganization is $339,000, or a 4% increase in the department’s budget. Over $200,000 will come from the general fund with the rest from an anticipated increase in revenue from servicing more customers.

“Since our volume of recorded documents has gone up, so has that revenue stream,” Freitas said. 

Those new employees will also have an easier time finding those documents with Freitas’ push to go paperless. Her office began the process in April 2021 with the goal of being completely paperless by November 2023. 

“We’re scanning-in all of those records,” Freitas said. “3.1 million pages is our estimate.”

Supervisor Paul Vander Poel was supportive of Freitas, especially considering she oversees two divisions under one umbrella. He said it was impressive she was able to make a differentiation in career growth within both the assessor’s and the corporate court division.

“You’ve taken care of the structure here and done so in a pretty fiscally responsible way,” Vander Poel said. “I know there is an ongoing cost, but since this is the first time you’ve asked for it since 1970, that’s very justified.”

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