Longtime elected official knows the value of Saline County

By Wayne Bryan Published November 11, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Jim Crawford has been a fixture in public office and was recemtly re-elected Saline County assessor for his ninth term.

— In a modest office across the street from the Saline County Courthouse in Benton is Jim Crawford, who has one of the most important and one of the most unpopular jobs in town, and he has endured nine election campaigns to stay there.

As Saline County assessor since 1997, Crawford has seen the county go through a booming period of growth and also watched it through years when growth slowed, and homes and property lost value.

“This year was an appraisal year, the first since 2009, and it was the first time we saw a drastic reduction in property values,” Crawford said. “We saw a $10 million decline in one community. We found prices down over much of the county.”

The county depends upon property-tax revenues as a major part of its budget, so a decline in value has a direct impact on government finances and services.

“The only thing that saved Saline County from having a real money problem was growth,” Crawford said. “There was more than $45 million in new construction in the last year, but before 2006, were seeing $100 million annually in new building.”

The decline in assessments will mean lower taxes for some, for a while. Crawford is already seeing values go up, and he is confident the economy will improve. He said home and business owners might face some “sticker shock” when the appraisals are made again in 2017.

Crawford said he loves Saline County and wants to see it thrive, but he acknowledges that his is an unpopular office.

“My office is an easy one to be upset with,” he said. “It is not a glamorous office. We hear complaints, and issues are constantly in arbitration.”

Crawford said that dealing with homes, businesses and taxes is never a good combination if you want to be greeted with a smile whenever someone walks through the door.

“Most people seem to understand how we come to the value of things, once they have been involved in the process,” he said. “That I keep getting elected, even with the change in the political climate, is a testament to the staff and their good work for people.”

It may also be because Crawford is recognized for being good at his job. He has been named the outstanding assessor in the state by the Arkansas Association of Assessors. He is on the board of that organization and has served as president. He now represents assessors as a board member of the Association of Arkansas Counties, an organization made up of all of the elected county officials in the state.

Crawford said he faces the voters every two years and holds the unpopular position as tax assessor because of his love for Saline County.

“That love gives me a deep dedication to serve the county,” he said. “I am blessed to be here and have the situation that I have.”

Crawford and his brother David were adopted in 1955, when he was 3 years old and his brother was 4. Before his adoption, he was named Murry Holder, but he was so young, Crawford said, he easily adapted to the new name. He said he does not remember his brother’s original name.

Over the years, Crawford found out that his parents had been sharecroppers who had lived near Brinkley. His father died of a heart attack while still young, and his birth mother, still young herself, could not care for her two sons and an older daughter. The boys were given up for adoption.

David and Lucy Crawford of Benton were older than many post-World War II parents because they had found they were unable to have children. Crawford said they were looking for a small child to adopt when they were offered the two brothers.

“The adoption services said they had two little brothers, and they didn’t want to separate them,” he said. “They said my folks could take us home for two weeks, and that if it didn’t go well, they could return one or both of us.”

The story ended well for the two brothers and the Crawfords.

“My mother said we must have known about the agreement because we were nicer during those two weeks than anytime afterward,” Crawford recalled with a smile. “She said we changed afterward.

“The best part of the story for me is that we ended up in Saline County, and our new parents introduced us to tremendous families with deep roots in the county.”

Crawford attended Benton High School, and in his senior year, he met a 10th-grader named Vicki, and two years later, they were married.

After finishing high school, Crawford attended the University of Central Arkansas for two years, then returned to join his father in the real estate and construction business. Crawford’s wife became a teacher and recently retired after 32 years at Caldwell Elementary School.

Joining a local title company, Crawford worked in that end of the real estate business until he was encouraged to run for office by Harold “Lacy” Landers, who had served in the Arkansas Legislature for 32 years. Both men attended Benton First Baptist Church.

Crawford first ran for the office of Saline County assessor in 1996. He faced opponents in the primary and won a runoff. He won out over another opponent in the general election. He took office Jan. 1, 1997.

Thoughts of his early life returned to Crawford when his first granddaughter was born in 2009.

“When the family gathered together that Christmas, I told everyone that I had a deep desire to locate my birth mother,” Crawford said. “By then, my parents were gone, and I would not have to worry that they would think I felt anything other than their son.”

He knew about his sister but had lost contact with her. After six months of doing research on the computer, Crawford said, he found his sister, Linda, in California.

“I wrote to her to her, asking if she was my sister, and I sent a photo of me and my wife and our granddaughter, Charlie Grace,” Crawford said. “She wrote back that she was my sister and that I had two living grandparents, Charley and Grace.”

Crawford and his brother went to Fresno, Calif., to meet their sister, mother and other family members.

“I went there to see my natural mother to tell her everything had turned out OK and we have had received many blessings,” Crawford said. “We bonded instantly, and I told her about ending up in Saline County. She died a short time later.”

Crawford won re-election as county assessor for the eighth time on Tuesday, for a term that will run through 2014. It was the first time he had opposition in the general election since he was first elected.

“I had to readjust my approach to the campaign,” Crawford said.

The assessor said he is the last remaining county official holding office who ran as a Democrat. He also said his ninth election will be his last for a Saline County office.

“Yes, this is probably going to be my last term as assessor,” Crawford said Thursday. “I still love politics, and I have been thinking about running for a statewide office.

“I am too young to stop, and I still want to serve.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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