WALLA WALLA — The ability to search for Walla Walla County property tax information online by names will continue to remain offline for now, County Treasurer Gordon Heimbigner said Wednesday.
He said he has no plans to restore the search by name function on the county’s TaxSifter Parcel Search engine. Searches can still be done by using an address or tax parcel number.
Heimbigner disabled the by-name function disabled last week. He said the move was spurred by the murders of law enforcement officials in Colorado and Texas and the concern that someone could use the search feature to find home addresses of law enforcement officials here.
“We’re getting a positive response from people” on the decision, Heimbigner said Wednesday. Some complaints from real estate professionals and a few others have been made, but otherwise people have supported the move.
“The actual taxpayers, they’ve been the ones who are happy I turned it off,” Heimbigner said. Many people have told him they were surprised at the amount of information that could be accessed through the TaxSifter system.
Heimbigner said people can still find all the information they want if they call or visit the Assessor’s or Treasurer’s Offices to request a search by name.
The shutdown doesn’t appear to violate the state’s public records access law, said Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington.
“It’s not illegal what he’s doing,” Thompson said. “He (Heimbigner) is not denying access to public records. You can’t bring a legal challenge to it, this is a convenience issue.”
Thompson said Thurston County, where he lives, doesn’t offer the ability to search by name and said he believes a number of other small Washington counties operate similarly. A recent Tri-City Herald article noted Benton County’s website does not allow searches by name.
Franklin County’s website does offer the function, but there has been talk of changing that although no plans are in place at this time, an official with the assessor’s office told a Herald reporter.
Mark Spinks, Walla Walla County’s public records officer, said a public records request from an inmate he received in 2011 is an example of why the search by name function should remain off.
The inmate requested photocopies “of the full descriptions, parcel number and tax info” for 10 people, the majority of whom were correctional officers. State officials, with the support of county officials, obtained a court order to block the request, but Spinks noted “if he had a brain, he could have had anyone on the outside request that information.”
However, the shutdown of the search by name function has drawn protests from several people, including local photographer and local history researcher Joe Drazan.
“Please turn back ON the search-by-name function of the Assessor’s County parcel files. It is an extremely important file for historians and genealogists to have easy access to,” Drazan said in and email.
Another local man, Fred Moore, emailed to say the search by name function was, in fact, still available.
“I, too, tend to think that the name-search feature should be restored,” hes said. “[But] the thing is, it hasn’t REALLY been disabled.”
Moore said that Heimbigner’s office removed an entry box from its webpage, but people can still type in the search query manually.
“For example, try the following URL, replacing Heimbigner with any name you want ... http://wallawallawa.taxsifter.com/taxsifter/SearchResults.asp?Name=Heimbigner,” he said.
“If anyone is really counting on having name searches disabled, as part of limiting someone’s liability should something nasty happen, they need to know that their efforts to date haven’t done what they’re purported to have done,” Moore added.