Tax Office report cites need for leadership

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 05:46 AM

While a report conducted by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners stated that the Rutherford County Tax Department is "in overall good shape," it did point out one glaring issue.

The report, which was issued by three current tax administrators and two state property tax valuation specialists, contended that the county's tax office needed "an individual to serve in the position of central authority over the combined functions of assessment and tax collections ..."

In addition, the report also called into question an ad hoc committee established by county commissioners.

But, the biggest issue with the Rutherford County Tax Department is a lack of one person to lead the organization.

"That was not just in the report but is was conveyed to me orally," said Carl Classen, Rutherford County manager. "This was their No. 1 recommendation."

Rutherford County has been without a Tax Administrator since 2011 when Kep Kepley was not reappointed to the position. The county unfunded the position for the last two fiscal years. Instead, the assessor and tax collector were appointed as co-administrators of the department.

"I had never seen that kind of arrangement and I was willing to ask for an administrator. But, the co-administrators said that the process was working fine," Classen said.

But, the report indicated that not having a "central authority" in the office, other recommendations such as: developing a program of customer service, evaluate the physical space used by the tax office and reviewing office software and phone systems, cannot be examined and put into place.

"Ultimately, both the governing board and the public are better served when all county departments have an individual at the helm assuming the leadership and responsibility for the functions of the department," the report said.

The report indicated that the tax office was in need of developing an "inclusive program of customer service." The report recommended the creation and staffing of "a front-line, full-service, customer service counter" and educating all office employees that interactions with those conducting business in the office is "an opportunity for education and builds a foundation for better community relations."

"We have to build systems so that we can embed citizen services," Classen said. "That means that when a citizen comes to the tax office, they can sufficiently conduct their business and come away feeling satisfied."

The report also stated that the tax office should look at its current software and phone systems as well as the utilization of office space.

"The computer system we have does work but it is a legacy system that is just holding together," Classen said. "The phone system is also a legacy system and the office layout is not conducive to helping citizens."

Despite some of the negative, the report did say that the tax office was functioning and was "in overall good shape."

"Technically, things are okay at the tax office," Classen said. "We have good people working with pretty tough systems. From the software to the phones to the building layout and those things are not necessarily conducive to running a tax office."

One final note in the report was calling into question an ad hoc tax committee that was most recently created in 2011.

"Overall, the exercise taken in the creation of any such committee is unnecessary," the report said. "There is no statutory authority for the governing board to abbreviate or reassign elsewhere the duties and responsibilities conferred by statute upon the office of the assessor or tax collector."

Now, Classen said that the county is moving ahead with some of the recommendations in the report.

"There's not going to be any moss growing under our feet on this," Classen said. "We are moving forward with this."