Housing prices

A new home is under construction in the Villago subdivision of Casa Grande.

FLORENCE — Pinal County staff are struggling to keep up with property changes in one of the nation’s most active real estate markets, the Board of Supervisors was told Wednesday.

Pinal County Assessor Douglas Wolf called it “a very unusual time. We’re looking at levels of activity in real estate that would mimic 2006 and 2007. It’s absolutely incredible. Pinal County is not only in the vortex, but the super-heated part of it. Real estate sales and transfers are higher than almost anywhere else in the country.”

Supervisor Jeff Serdy, R-Apache Junction, said the assessor received some new positions recently and asked if temporary workers would also be helpful. He said real estate people and developers are watching, worried about losing money, “and they want some relief. … How can we improve this process?”

Wolf said the idea of subbing out some work to contractors has been explored, but “the problem is the market has not met the demand.” He said his department has four open positions.

“Everyone is working overtime, although we can’t force people to work overtime under county rules. We can only ask them to work overtime,” Wolf said.

As for new staff positions, “I think what we asked for in the budget is adequate for right now, as soon as we can get people up to speed and get them trained.” Wolf said he may return to the board to ask for two more positions in the middle of the budget year, “because we’re finding that nothing is slowing down as far as (land) splits, combinations and activity. We thought it might start to taper off, but it hasn’t.”

Pinal can’t hire people away from other counties and nearby cities because those other places pay more, Wolf said. The assessor had one new position last year, a senior drafting person. She was promoted and received a higher salary but still left for another job. “So we have lost several employees,” Wolf said.

Serdy asked Deputy County Manager Mary Ellen Sheppard if the county was advertising for employees in other states. Sheppard replied the county certainly can do that. She noted the board approved new job classifications the previous week, and the county will recruit for new positions with new pay grades across the country.

In March of last year, as the pandemic was beginning, county officials were expecting a slowdown and were reluctant to add employees. “So the people we were going to ask for 18 months ago, we backed off,” Wolf said. “Very shortly, within two months, we found … the real estate market actually accelerated. So we were kind of caught.”

Board Chairman Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, asked how Pinal’s Assessor’s Office staffing compares to other counties. Wolf said Maricopa County didn’t slow down last year and kept up its hiring pace. “Yavapai is experiencing the same problems we are.”

Wolf gave credit to prior boards for “setting the table” in recent years for the current business investment and growth, although “no one expected it to happen quite this dramatically.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.