Karl vs. Karl: County auditor race heats up

A veteran politician faces an attorney and real estate agent who is nearly half his age in the Montgomery County auditor’s race, which pits experience against new blood.

Democratic incumbent Karl Keith has easily cruised to victory every time he’s run for the office, but Karl George Kordalis, his Republican opponent, says he thinks voters are ready for a change.

It’s time to “upgrade your Karl,” Kordalis said.

Keith said he knows the community well and has a deep understanding of the job.

“I think my years of experience makes a really big difference,” he said.

The auditor is the county’s chief fiscal officer, assessor and is responsible for paying the county’s bills, distributing taxes collected by the county treasurer and preparing annual financial statements.

The office is in charge of determining property values for taxing purposes and transferring property deeds.

The auditor’s office tests and certifies the accuracy of gas pumps, grocery scales, retail scanners and other commercial weighing and measuring devices.

The position will pay about $119,840 next year.

The incumbent

Keith, 66, who lives in Dayton, was first appointed county auditor in fall of 2000 to fill an unexpired term.

He was elected two years later and then was reelected four times after that.

Keith’s opponents have never come within 6 percentage points of defeating him.

In the last three elections, Keith faced and dispatched the same Republican candidate, Harry Bossey, and his margin of victory widened in every rematch.

Keith said county residents know him as “the gas pump guy,” because he and members of his office are regularly out and about testing and certifying the county’s roughly 5,000 gas pumps.

The auditor’s office each year also inspects about 13,000 to 20,000 retail scanners and 2,000 scales in the county.

Keith described himself as a “career public servant” who worked his way up through county government and he said experience matters in this very complicated job.

He said his institutional knowledge has been a major asset, especially since his office has been forced to adapt to many legal and technological changes over the years.

Keith said he works very hard to protect consumers and businesses at gas pump and retail counters across the county.

“This is important work,” he said.

He said he’s also worked as hard as ever this election cycle to meet with voters and listen to them.

The challenger

But Kordalis said Keith is to blame for inflated property valuations.

Residential property values in the auditor’s in most recent countywide revaluation increased 15%, which Kordalis said was way too much.

Keith’s office proposed a smaller increase (+7.4%), but the Ohio Department of Taxation wanted a larger one (+18%), and they ended up reaching a compromise.

Overvalued properties means property owners are paying more than they should in taxes, and Montgomery County has one of the highest property tax rates in the state, said Kordalis, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative.

Kordalis, 35, who lives in Washington Twp., is a real estate agent with Sibcy Cline and he also has his own legal practice, with offices in Dayton, Xenia and Springboro.

His firm handles civil ligation, as well as some criminal and traffic defense cases and family law matters.

But Keith said his office has very little control over the property tax rates, which are primarily decided by voters.

Keith said his opponent’s claim that he will reverse the property value increases is a “ridiculous promise” that is not within the auditor’s power.

Keith says he’s proud of his accomplishments while in office, which includes spearheading a statewide crackdown on illegal credit card skimmers at gas pumps.

Keith also said his office importantly stepped up after the Memorial Day tornadoes of 2019 to help impacted property owners, including by getting hundreds of people’s tax bills reduced.

Keith said technology his office developed helped map the path of the storm and identify properties that were damaged.

The auditor is one of the most important jobs in the county, and it’s time for new leadership, said Kordalis, who unsuccessfully ran for a Montgomery County Common Pleas judge seat two years ago.

Keith has been the county auditor since Bill Clinton was President, and positions like this should not be lifetime careers, Kordalis said.

Government offices need turnover to ensure that new people come in who bring fresh ideas, he said.

Kordalis said if elected he would not try to make this a lifetime job. He said he would take over, implement needed changes and eventually move on.

Keith said looking ahead that he will continue to push and work with lawmakers to change the rules of the Homestead Exemption program.

The program allows Ohio’s senior citizens to exempt up to $25,000 of the market value of their homes.

Keith said he wants the state to increase the exemption amount and he also supports eliminating or raising the income threshold to qualify for the program, which was $34,200 in 2021.

Kordalis said the state of the economy and high inflation will be a top issue in this election.

He said the county has not been business friendly, and he’s the right choice for residents who will cast votes with their pocketbooks in mind.

Kordalis said his legal and real estate background will come in handy because he believes a market downturn is coming.

Kordalis also said he knows how to work with people and he has “thick skin” and welcomes criticism since it can guide better decision-making.

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