Ventura County Assessor R. J. (Jerry) Sanford, who worked to reduce county property taxes, died Thursday after suffering a stroke. He was 57.
County officials said Sanford was stricken at his home in Oak View Wednesday evening. He was taken to Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, where he died Thursday morning.
The County Board of Supervisors must decide whether to appoint someone to complete Sanford's term, which expires in January, or call for a special election.
Sanford had joined county government in 1962 as an appraiser trainee. He quickly worked his way through the ranks. He had been serving his second four-year term as assessor, responsible for determining the value of properties in the county.
When area property values started to drop several years ago, Sanford immediately made sure that property taxes would also decrease, officials said. Only this year, officials in Los Angeles County have taken similar action.
"He actually was at the forefront of all the assessors in the state in giving the taxpayers their real assessed value," said Michael Saliba, executive director of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn.
H. Jere Robings, executive director of the Ventura County Alliance of Taxpayers, added: "He felt (reducing taxes) was an absolute obligation on his part. Even though it resulted in decreased revenue, he was committed to fulfilling that job."
An affable man with a somewhat quiet demeanor, Sanford managed 129 employees. Officials said he ran one of the most efficient departments in county government.
"He has been known as someone who really ran a lean machine," Supervisor Maria VanderKolk said. "His department has done an excellent job. You couldn't meet a nicer person or a harder-working team player."
County Chief Administrative Officer Richard Wittenberg said he had worked with Sanford for at least 25 years.
"He was a very dedicated person who was always looking for ways to serve the public better," Wittenberg said. "He believed in giving the taxpayers a fair shake. If there was a possibility of giving refunds, he would do that to the letter of the law."
Sanford is survived by his wife, Louise, three children and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were still pending Thursday, county officials said.
Although he was born in Arkansas, Sanford grew up in Somis, Glenn Gray, assistant assessor, said. Sanford attended Moorpark High School and Ventura College, Gray said, and was an avid fisherman.
"I considered him a kindred spirit," County Clerk-Recorder Richard Dean said. "He was a good listener. He wasn't judgmental. He was a good person."
Added Supervisor Maggie Kildee: "We will miss him."