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Supervisors mull division of tax office

Rita Goss is thinking about making her third run at the LincolnCounty Tax Office, but she needs to know something first. If sheruns, will it be for the job of assessor, collector orassessor/collector?

The West Lincoln resident and past county candidate was the onlymember of the public to show up to supervisors’ docket meetingFriday morning to hear what county leaders had to say about thepossibility of splitting the tax office into two elected positions,a proposal put forth earlier in the week by Lincoln County TaxAssessor/Collector Nancy Jordan. Jordan said the office’s dutieshave become too great for a single administrator to manage bothdepartments.

In contemplating a potential tax office split, supervisors have farmore factors to consider than time to consider them. Qualifying forcounty offices for the 2011 elections begins on Jan. 4.

“I can’t make my decision until they make their decision,” Gosssaid. “I have run for office two other times and I’ve had severalpeople ask me if I was going to run again. I really need to know soI can make a decision.”

Goss ran for the office in 2003 and 2007, falling to Jordan bothtimes. But if county voters were allowed to choose an assessor anda collector instead of one assessor/collector, it could bedifferent.

For supervisors, it’s not an easy decision to make. Qualifyingdeadlines, redistricting and cost are all important factorsaffecting their choice.

“My one concern is how it would affect us monetarily,” said BoardPresident Doug Moak in opening supervisors’ short discussion on thematter Friday.

According to the county administrator’s office, creating a newelected position would require at least an additional $60,000 peryear.

Based on Lincoln County’s total assessed value of $350 million, thesalary for an assessor or collector would start at $56,000annually. Anyone with International Association of AssessingOfficers certifications could earn an additional $1,500, $6,500 or$8,500, depending on the certification.

Likewise, anyone certified under the Mississippi Education andCertification Track II umbrella could earn an additional $1,000each for two certifications and $1,500 for the third. Either theassessor or collector would take charge of solid waste collectionand earn an additional $3,000.

With both an assessor and collector working in the tax office, thetotal compensation of both would come to approximately $120,000 -not counting benefits and insurance, said County AdministratorDavid Fields. He said taxes and retirement would add another 20percent, and about $10,000 would be needed for healthinsurance.

That’s a lot for some supervisors to take, and apparently a lot forsome citizens, too.

“I’ve had a bunch of calls, I’d say 60, and all 60 were against(splitting the office),” said District Three Supervisor NolanWilliamson.

District Two Supervisor Bobby Watts is a little shaken by theprospect, too.

“I’d like for us to table this matter until the first board meetingafter March 1,” he said.

But tabling the issue until March 1 would make the point moot for2011, Moak pointed out. That’s the day qualifying for countyoffices ends.

“If you do that you might as well vote against it,” he said.

Whatever decision supervisors make, they want to make it by Feb. 1,allowing potential tax office candidates the final four weeks ofqualifying to sign up.

But 2011 is also a redistricting year, throwing another, morecomplicated wrench into the gears. Supervisors must have the finalnumbers from the 2010 census to see if redistricting will benecessary for Lincoln County, and those numbers aren’t expecteduntil a late, critical date – Feb. 1.

“As I understand it, we have the option of running on the currentlines with the intent of redistricting next year, with the linestaking effect in 2015,” Moak said.

But anyone disaffected by that decision could challenge the countyin a lawsuit. Any plans the county makes for adjusting voting lineshas to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice, asMississippi is one of 11 states that must submit changes forpre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act.

“We could go ahead and leave the qualifying lines as is and submitif for approval, but if the Justice Department don’t approve it,somehow we’d have to qualify again,” Moak said.

It’s an odd situation, considering the districts for countywideoffices like the tax office won’t change one way or the other, Moaksaid.

“The borders of Lincoln County aren’t going to change. To me,that’s a lot of conflict for a few county elected positions,” hesaid.