Smithfield Herald

January 6, 2014

Tax chief goes to work

Johnston County’s new tax chief has a vision of constant improvement for the office.

Johnston County’s new tax chief has a vision of constant improvement for the office.

Sheila Garner, 48, became director of the Johnston County Tax Office on Jan. 1, replacing Pat Goddard, who retired after 12 years on the job.

Garner, who has worked in the office since 1987, grew up in the Princeton-Pine Level area, where she still makes her home. After graduating from Johnston Community College in 1983, she began her career at W.P. Ferris, a property-revaluation firm that helped Johnston County with its property revaluation in 1987.

From that job, she joined the county tax office and became real estate manager in 1994, a position she held until her recent promotion. In 2002, Garner earned a degree in operations management from Mount Olive College.

“The office continues to evolve, and it’s a great thing,” Garner said. “Over the years, I’ve seen it go from everything on paper to no maps to now we have all of this great technology that is continuing to evolve.”

She said her staff is in for some exciting times as technology integrates the many functions of the office, making the tax process simpler for residents and her statff.

Garner plans to continue advancing technology in the office. Her main goal is to first bring the different parts of her office into one database and display all tax information on a single map. This would be available for taxpayers but would be especially useful for the staff in her office, Garner said

For instance, if an appraiser goes to a property, he could look back in the records and see that last year, the owner had one car, not three. He would then realize the property owner had not updated his listing with the county. That listing determines how much the property owner owes in taxes.

“With the new technology, what I actually think is it will increase our efficiency, with more modernization of some of our key operations,” Garner said. “So hopefully by tying it down, it should take less man-hours to be able to collect some of those delinquent taxes. So we’re really hoping that we will also be able to increase our collection rate by doing that.”

Garner hopes this integration will happen largely over the next year; the department is working with software company Bi-Tek to make it all happen.

Garner also wants to use technology to reach out to taxpayers. She plans to update the office’s website with information about what taxes are owed, why and when, and how to pay them. This will create more transparency, she said.

“I think that sometimes (taxpayers) don’t understand that if they don’t pay their taxes by a certain date, these are the things by law that we have to do,” she said, such as garnishing wages. “I think that sometimes that people get themselves into a situation that, had they known, they may would have made different arrangements.”

Garner wants to help taxpayers understand how the system works before it ends up costing them more than the original tax bill. “It’s really getting the info out there so that they can see all through the year what their responsibilities are,” she said.

Garner will focus also on professional development with her staff. She plans to have them cross-train and encourage them to pursue professional certifications and attend conferences.

“Whenever (taxpayers) call into this office, if they have a general question, I want that question to be answered by that person; I don’t want them to be transferred,” she said, explaining the need for cross-training.

Garner is looking forward to the future of the tax office. She hopes that, eventually, taxpayers will be able to update their personal property information online rather than by paper.

Goddard, the former tax director, said Garner is an excellent choice because of her experience in the tax office. “I’m delighted that Sheila was chosen to fill my unexpired term,” she said. “Sheila is very understanding. She’s very sympathetic and empathetic with taxpayers.”

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