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Meet the candidate: Republican Tom Brinkman for Hamilton County Auditor

Ohio Rep. Tom Brinkman.
Ohio House of Representatives
Ohio Rep. Tom Brinkman.

Two candidates are on the ballot this fall to be the next Hamilton County Auditor: Republican Tom Brinkman and Democrat Brigid Kelly. Both are representatives in the Ohio State Legislature.

Brinkman sat down with WVXU Local Government Reporter Becca Costello to talk about his goals if elected. You can listen to the full conversation by clicking the purple play button above, or read a transcript below.

Find an interview with Brinkman's opponent online here.

This interview has been slightly edited for grammar and clarity.

First, talk a little bit about your professional and political credentials. Why does your experience make you the best person for the job?

Well, first of all, I'm finishing 16 years in the state legislature. And I've enjoyed my work there. And certainly being a longtime member, I understand a little bit about how government works; how the state works with the county. I've been there many times while we've extended duties that the county auditor does, or changed them, or made them more responsible, things along that line. Previous to that I was in sales for a family printing company. And after getting out of the Statehouse from my first stint, 2001 to 2008, I got into the insurance business. And that has led me to really appreciate the value of insurance, property values, those type of issues. And that combined with my government service and understanding how the state government works, I think makes me uniquely qualified to serve as the next county auditor.

I think this particular office is one that maybe the average Hamilton County resident doesn't know a whole lot about. Talk about what the job of the Hamilton County Auditor is and how it actually impacts residents' everyday lives.

Well, first of all, the job of the county auditor is to report information. They report information in all sorts of ways. I think there's almost 130 different responsibilities that the county auditor has. However, to the average county resident, the big thing is assessing property values. And that's important. Most people's homes are their biggest investment. Whether it's now a condo or a townhouse or trailer or whatever it might be — farm. So having those valuations correct is very important. Because it's not just, 'Well, I want it high when I sell it.' No, there's all sorts of things you can do with your property; you can get equity out of the property, you can refinance, and having all those things correct is very important in your life. So that's probably the biggest responsibility one does.

The second responsibility that most people see and they kind of [are] oblivious [to] is the county auditor is all in charge of weights and measures. So when you're at the gas pump and you're really bored watching the gas go you see a little seal there that has the county auditor's name on it. But the county auditor also does weights and measures at the butcher shop, making sure the weight for meat or cheese or whatever you would buy at a deli is correct. I noticed on the self checkout at a grocery stores there's (a sticker) making sure that the UPCs are correct so that when you see something on the shelf that says $2.99 when you scan it, it's $2.99. So I think that that is also a way that citizens throughout the county are seeing that office.

The third thing that I like to emphasize is the dog licenses. Now we are having a crisis in our county on the kennel. SCPA, I know that the county commissioners had to take it away from one body from the next; the sheriff's involved, it's a mess.

(Reporter's note: Brinkman is referring to the county's dog warden duties and animal shelter, which were managed by the SCPA for six decades. The SCPA terminated the contract in 2020, after a few years of some community criticism about the operation. It is now operated by Cincinnati Animal CARE.)

But one of the things that the county auditor does is collect dog license fees. And we are just not getting enough in because that money helps fund the stray dog and pet population and takes care of the kennels. And it also provides benefits I don't think people are aware of they can help if your dog goes missing, they can find and get it returned to you. So making that more accessible for people to purchase their licenses, I think would be a very important thing.

Let's talk a little more about the issues that you're running on and how you think that office can be different. Just taking a look at your campaign website under the issues page, there are three that you list. One that you are pro life, the topic of economic and personal liberty, and the topic of pursuit of happiness. But frankly, there's not a lot of detail there on what exactly you plan to do in the auditor's office. I was having a little bit of trouble identifying what you think that office needs to change. Can you give us a little clarity?

Well, first of all, that website is transitioning from when I ran for state rep in previous years. So number one thing is we need to make sure we have great appraisals, property appraisals, because they are not a question of, hey, I want it low when I'm paying taxes and I want it high when I sell. Many groups are being bedeviled by what they call the Zillow appraisals. And those are done by satellite, they see a property goes up, one of the properties on someone's street sells for a high prices, as they have been doing here lately. And then folks see their appraisals go up. I want to make sure we get back to more accurate appraisals. I'll give you an example, real life example for me: I wanted to catch the low interest rates last year, this time last year, they were 2.5. Now they're in the sixes because of Biden's reckless spending. But I had to get a new appraisal because my house was valued at like $460,000 or something and it wouldn't swing it. The bank sent me an appraiser, he came to my house, he appraised me and matched me with other properties in my community. I was appraised at $640,000 So I was able to swing the loan. Since that time, that loan has saved me lots of money, because part of it was a fixed loan and part was an equity loan. And it would have gone up with all this terrible inflation that Democrats have foisted on us. So it really was valuable to me to have an accurate appraisal. And I just would like to get more of that. And that's why the Board of Realtors has endorsed me because they're saying a lot of people get a high appraisal and they think, 'Well, that's what I'm gonna get for my house.' And they get mad at the realtor when they don't. Or they get a real low appraisal and they say, well, well, and they tried to sell it for more. And then people go on Zillow and say, 'Well, wait a minute, it's only appraised at this, why would we give you that much?' So I think we need to look a little bit closer, getting more accurate appraisals. That's a big thing for me.

And how can the county auditor make that happen? There are county appraisers, but people can hire a private appraiser. How can you encourage that more accurate approach that you would like to see?

Well, I'd like to bring back real appraisals.

But how can the county auditor accomplish that?

You can can hire them.

Is there a budget to do that?

Oh, definitely. You're paying a lot of money to somebody out of state to do Zillow appraisals. And I think we should get back to real appraisals, hiring Cincinnatians, Hamilton Countians, who would work and do the job. And so that's what I would like to get back to.

So the second thing is the weights and measures. Weights and measures are very important, particularly in his time of Biden inflation, where people getting killed with gas prices, killed at the meat counter, killed with their groceries because of inflation. So we have to make sure, double down, make sure everything is accurate. I have no idea that they are inaccurate. I'm not accusing anybody of anything. But we need to put a special emphasis to make sure they are accurate in this time of high inflation because of the poorly run government that we have here in the county and in the nation.

The third thing as I mentioned earlier was dog licenses. I think we need to make it easier for people to purchase dog licenses when they're buying, when they're buying their every month $90 bag of dog food, to make sure it's accessible at Pet Stop and PetSmart and all these different pet stores. Yes, they can be purchased online. But again, that's not at a time when people are thinking about it. When you think about it, you can buy rolls of postage stamps at Kroger's. And you think, 'Well, why would the post office give up that responsibility?' Well, they want to make it accessible to people. And I think we just have to make it more accessible to more people. And I think that will result in more people buying dog licenses. I was actually at an event and a guy who's an elected official, he was talking about 'Well, I got two dogs, why should I do the license thing?' And his wife was like, 'Be quiet, be quiet. You're next to the guy who's running for county auditor!' I said, look, I'm not going to be, I'm not, somebody's going to come in your house, oh, you need dog licenses. What I want to do is I think if people knew the benefit of it, they'd find out that that $19 a year is not that big a price for the benefits that you can receive. And the fact that it does contribute to helping with the SCPA and the stray pet population, we can really, maybe arrest that growth, if we do more there.

(Reporter's note: as described above, SCPA no longer manages the Hamilton County animal shelter.)

Going back to the weights and measures — what would it look like to put a special emphasis, I think was the phrase you used, on that? To make sure in this time of inflation, that those are all accurate? Is it a matter of more frequent inspections? Is it more staff that would be needed to do that? What would that look like?

Well, I went out to my wife's business in Evendale, and there was a truck parked there that was the county inspector. And it sat there with the guy in it for a long time. I took a picture of it and sent it to the county auditor. Now, maybe he could do more frequent inspectors if he can sit in his truck and do nothing for whatever time. But yes, we need to make sure that there is more frequency of inspections. You know, it's funny, my wife has a newer car, and my gosh, the tire pressure gauge drives us nuts. But the reality is the tire goes down one or two, and in the old days, we just drove on it and we didn't think about it. But having it requires us to do more frequent checks by going to AAA Bob Sumerel, and they just check it and they say, 'Oh, yeah, you're down a little here; down a little here.' And that's going to be good for the health of the tires and health of the car and for safety. So I think that I like the idea of more frequent checking and making sure that things are right. If you can sit in your parked truck for a few hours, you can maybe go back and check a few things. And that's kind of how I view it. But like I said, I have no evidence that anybody is doing anything wrong, that all the measures and weights are done at a reasonable interval. But I just think that in this time, where it's so important to families that are being crushed with this inflation, we need to do more.

Is there anything else that you want to say to the voters of Hamilton County as they think about who to vote for and why you think you're the best choice?

Well, you know, I was thinking about this terrible situation down in Florida (Hurricane Ian, which was ongoing at the time of this interview.) I mean, people have lost their homes, many have lost their lives. A home is, and their property is, their most valuable asset. It's something that will take care of them as they get older, retirement, being able to sell the property for a good amount that will help with the retirement. Being an insurance guy, I want to make sure that folks know that that property is valued properly, and that they can thus insure it properly, and thus have that asset when they need it. You know, being in insurance, I always hear people say nobody cares about insurance until they need it. And that's why I think that my background with insurance and knowing the stuff needs to be valuable, whether it's a life, whether it's your property, your car is very important. I've worked very hard as chairman of the House Insurance Committee. I've been chairman for almost seven years now. That's been a special emphasis of mine. And so I think that again, gives me more of a value to know those those roles as county as county auditor.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.