BY SCOTT AUST
Maria Castillo had no dreams of being an appraiser when she was young, but she has greatly enjoyed her career choice the past 17 years.
This week, Castillo, 37, of Garden City was hired by the Finney County Commission to head the Finney County Appraiser's Office.
"I'm excited," she said. "When I first started, I really didn't envision myself as a county appraiser because I seriously thought that (former county appraiser) Alan Rupe was going to be here for a long time."
Castillo, a life-long southwest Kansas resident, was born in Dodge City, graduated from South Gray High School in Montezuma and studied business management at Garden City Community College. She and her husband, Salvador, have three daughters.
She started working in the Finney County Appraiser's Office in the summer of 1995, after deciding she no longer wanted to attend school part time.
"I didn't know the appraiser's office existed," Castillo said. "I didn't know what they did when I first got the job. But I really, really liked it. It gives you a little bit of everything."
After former County Appraiser Mark Low retired in September, Castillo decided to jump at the opportunity to run the department by applying for the job.
"I like this. I like working with people, and I'm really excited. I've got a bunch of ideas," she said.
In addition, there is some speculation that Castillo may be the first female county appraiser Finney County has had, and possibly the first Hispanic woman to hold the position in the state of Kansas.
It's difficult to verify those milestones.
Both Cindy Brenner, executive secretary for the Kansas County Appraiser's Association, and Della Rowley, past president of the KCAA, said there is a strong likelihood that Castillo is the first Hispanic woman in the state to become a county appraiser, though no records like that are kept.
Rowley, who has 20 years experience in Kansas, and Brenner, who has 14 years, both said they were only relying on memory and couldn't think of another Hispanic county appraiser in at least the last two decades. "Prior to that, I'm not sure there's any kind of historical record," Brenner said. "There's been very few Latino county appraisers at all, so I'm 99.9 percent sure there hasn't been a woman. But as far as records of gender or race, other than seeing their name, I can't think of anywhere we track that. But I think it's great. She'll do a fine job."
Castillo said she never really thought about her race in regards to her job, but the possibility of being the first female Finney County appraiser did cross her mind only because neither she nor anyone in the office could recall a female holding the job. She also wondered if the county commission would have an issue with a female appraiser, since the job seemed to have traditionally been held by a man.
But her hiring sailed through Monday's commission meeting.
"Across the state of Kansas, there are quite a few female appraisers. You're starting to see more of them," Castillo said. "I've been in the office for 17 years, but back then I was really only paying attention to what I was doing, and really didn't focus on what was going on with other county appraisers."
Over the years, Castillo worked her way through the various divisions within the appraiser's office, learning about every aspect of the appraiser's work along the way. She started in personal property and eventually became the chief appraiser under Rupe and a deputy appraiser, where she oversaw commercial, agricultural and residential areas.
Castillo talks enthusiastically about everything the appraiser's office does. She said she has found the work includes variety, everything from learning about building construction and square footage to agriculture and the oil and gas industries.
"Our goal is to be on market value. The value we put on your property are the values we think you can sell your property for, and everything we do is by statute," she said.
Castillo said she always keeps the taxpayer in mind. One of her goals is to improve how the appraiser's office is viewed by the public, an image that is somewhat negative because of an appraisal's impact on property value and taxes.
"We work for the taxpayer, so my goal is to always treat them with kindness, dignity and respect. I want to work on our image and to let taxpayers know we're here to listen," she said. "That's one of my goals is to have people realize we're here to help and to have a better image of us."