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An Obscure Race: Meet The Candidates Running For San Diego County Assessor

Ernie Dronenburg and Matt Strabone appear in official campaign portraits.

Above: Ernie Dronenburg and Matt Strabone appear in official campaign portraits.

The California constitution requires each county to have an elected assessor. That means every four years, voters head to the polls to choose San Diego County's next Assessor/Recorder/Clerk.

The job involves deciding how much property tax everyone pays, storing the county's public land records and issuing marriage licenses and birth certificates.

This primary election, two men are vying for the seat: incumbent Ernie Dronenburg and Matt Strabone, an ethics lawyer.

"Although it is rather obscure, it can do a lot," Strabone said. "I have a very kind of deep interest in this office in particular. I know that we're lacking in the leadership department in our office here and I believe I could do a better job. And that's kind of the basis of a republic right? If you think you could do a better job than the elected officials you should try to replace them."

Strabone said he would specifically work to inform more homeowners that they are eligible for a property tax exemption called the Homeowner's Exemption. He sent out a mailer with The San Diego Union-Tribune last Sunday that claimed he could help 150,000 people save money on their taxes by taking this exemption.

Incumbent Ernie Dronenburg said not all of those 150,000 people are eligible for the exemption. For example, people who received a Disabled Veteran’s Exemption. When KPBS questioned Strabone about this, he said between 5,000 and 6,000 homeowners claim this exemption.

"So I guess the number of unclaimed homeowner's exemptions is closer to 142,000, though I'd argue this is still nearly 150,000," he said.

Strabone also questions Dronenburg's ethics, citing a San Diego Union-Tribune story that said the current assessor invested in companies that own and manage properties under his jurisdiction.

"He's taken no steps to recuse himself from assessing those properties," Strabone said. "I think that's wrong."

Dronenburg called the accusation "ridiculous."

"For example, if I own Coca-Cola stock you think I should recuse myself from not assessing Coca-Cola because I own Coca-Cola stock?" he said.

The Union-Tribune further reported that professional groups say there is no specific rules regarding elected assessors making investments.

Dronenburg has held the office since 2010. He said when he was elected, he focused on a culture of customer service, and it has paid off.

"We don't sell tires," he said. "We provide great customer service. That's our product. That's what we do. So then I had everybody in the office, all 415 people, took a customer service training class and then we are told we're going to measure them on great customer service and we're going to reward them on great customer service."

He said the office has received more than a 98 percent positive rating in customer service surveys and has a 4.5-star rating on Yelp. That is true, though it only has three reviews total.

The California constitution requires each county to have an elected assessor. That means every four years, voters head to the polls to choose San Diego County's next Assessor/Recorder/Clerk.

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