Nonresident begins term on state assessment board

Board sets the value for oil industry property, law says members must be registered Alaska voters

ANCHORAGE — A California man with ties to the oil industry is the newest member of the Alaska board that sets the value for oil industry property, and a spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell says the appointment is legal — despite a state law that requires board members to be registered Alaska voters.

Parnell selected Dennis Mandell, 59, of Salinas, Calif., for an indefinite term on the State Assessment Review Board. He began the job March 1, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Mandell replaced former Anchorage city assessor Marty McGee, the former board chairman, whom Parnell dismissed last month.

The assessment board under McGee had set increasingly higher values for the trans-Alaska pipeline system. That meant the state and local governments received hundreds of millions of dollars in additional property taxes from oil producers that own the line.

Mandell last lived in Alaska in 1995. He worked for Arco appraising business decisions and analyzing conflicts with government over taxes and other charges. Arco assets were mainly taken over by ConocoPhillips in 2000.

Mandell said in a phone interview that he is registered to vote in California and runs a one-person consulting firm. “I have no property, no economic interests in Alaska,” he said.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow gave three explanations in email messages for why the board-residency requirement did not apply to Mandell. The Alaska Constitution only requires an appointee to be a U.S. citizen, she wrote.

A 1973 Alaska House Finance Committee report on the bill that created the board said it was the “feeling” of the committee that a governor should be able to appoint experts on property assessment from wherever they could be found, Leighow said.

She also said the State Assessment Review Board is a quasi-judicial regulatory board.

“For those types of boards, the constitution simply requires members to be U.S. citizens. We try to find the most qualified individuals to serve. In most cases, qualified applicants can be found here in Alaska. On certain highly technical boards, we have considered individuals who reside outside of Alaska,” Leighow said.

Mandell is the second former oil industry executive appointed to the board since January by Parnell. He also appointed Bernie Washington, who worked for Mandell at Arco and still lives in Anchorage.

The appointments must be confirmed by the Alaska Legislature.

The Alaska Department of Revenue last year said the pipeline system was worth $7.16 billion. That would have generated property tax of $143 million for the state and communities.

Valdez, Fairbanks and the North Slope Borough challenged that value. The assessment board under McGee decided the proper number was $11.9 billion, which generated property tax of $237.4 million.

The state this month set a pipeline value of just $5.6 billion. Anchorage attorney Bill Walker, who is running for governor as an independent, said the communities likely will again appeal that number.

Parnell last year successfully pushed for changes in Alaska’s tax structure for the oil industry to stimulate investment and exploration. Changes approved in the legislature are expected to save the industry billions of dollars over the next decade but are the subject of a citizen referendum repeal effort that will be voted on in August.

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