Revenue Commissioner: A big job

Published 7:28 pm Saturday, December 20, 2008

Talk about having big shoes to fill. The person elected as Chilton County’s revenue commissioner will be expected to fill four shoes — those previously filled by the tax assessor and tax collector.

As you probably know, Chilton County voters have elected to combine the county’s two tax offices. Some feel that by eliminating an office, the county can save money, while others feel the responsibilities of both offices combined are too demanding.

Either way, the voters have spoken, and now the county is charged with making it work. The people will elect a revenue commissioner in 2014 who will take office in 2015, unless either the newly elected assessor or collector resigns before that time. At that point, the remaining official would become commissioner.

Tax Collector Tim Little said there are some misconceptions about combining the offices. Some who opposed the move feared that the revenue commissioner could turn around and hire an assistant, but the act does not specifically address an assistant.

“It’s going to take a vote of the people to have an assistant, and we don’t need one,” Little said. “The insurance and retirement is where the savings really come into play.”

Little, who researched the 2008-09 Alabama Tax Administration Book, said 55 out of 67 Alabama counties have a revenue commissioner or equivalent official.

“At tax administration meetings, I personally polled a number of them,” he added. “None of them I talked to would go back to the way it was before.”

The Chilton County Tax Collector’s Office operates on a $550,000 budget. Under its umbrella are tax collections and motor vehicle tags and licensing. There are 10 employees and two head clerks, one for collections and one for motor vehicles.

The office collects ad valorem taxes on real property, personal property and manufactured homes. They collect funds and distribute them every 15 days to various entities.

“A dollar is divided up 12 ways in the county, and 13 ways if you live in a city or town,” Little explained.

Should funds come up missing, the county is liable for up to $2,500, and anything after that must come out of the tax collector’s pocket.

The motor vehicles department handled about 61,000 transactions during the 2007-08 fiscal year, and the collections office handled nearly 30,000.

Then there’s the office of tax assessor. Currently, the tax assessor is administrator over four divisions including assessing, mapping, appraisals and personal property. This office operates on a $700,000 budget.

Tax Assessor Tom Powers, whose term ends next year, said the revenue commissioner will need to be qualified and educated in all areas encapsulating both offices.

“The revenue commissioner will be responsible for the increased number of employees he will manage as well as oversee the operations of these multiple divisions,” Powers said. “The commissioner’s expertise will determine the cost effectiveness of the office, ability to create system and physical improvements and generate revenue for Chilton County.”

One positive improvement Powers noted is that all tax-related issues will be located in one office, which will be convenient to taxpayers. The physical structure of the offices, however, is a different matter.

“The logistics currently for the combining of the offices includes employees on the second floor of the courthouse, in the basement of the courthouse and across the street,” Powers said. “Also, the computers and physical operations will need to be combined as one unit.”

Little indicated the transition may not be as drastic as some believe, as the employees are already in place.

“They’re separate, yet they almost have to work as one,” Little said. “It’s going to be a tougher job, but the people are in place. There are not going to have to be any hires.”

He also stressed the importance of educating employees by sending them to regular training sessions. When asked what kind of attributes the revenue commissioner will need, his answer was basic:

“It will need to be somebody that will leave politics out,” Little said. “The revenue commissioner will be a link between the people and the county commission, and also a link between employees and the commission.”

Powers said he believes there is plenty of time to prepare and implement the combining of the offices.

“After all, this is the will of the voters of Chilton County,” he said.