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4 vie for tax assessor/collector’s office

This is part of a series of stories focusing on candidates running for office. The next story will publish April 26.

Candidates for the upcoming Lincoln County elections are counting down the days until the Aug. 4 primary. Those running for tax assessor/collector are no exception.

The Lincoln County tax assessor/collector handles a variety of tasks including: the assessment of personal and real property values, filing homestead papers, collecting money for vehicle tags and solid waste accounts, keeping land roll maps, keeping local government books balanced and accurate, reporting to state audit departments, and overseeing and collecting taxes and revenues for Lincoln County.

The four candidates running for the office of tax assessor/collector are Becky Bartram (R), incumbent Rita Goss (D), Blake Pickering (R) and Wendy Smith (R).

Becky Bartram is a lifetime resident of Lincoln County who has spent 20 years in the banking industry during which time she managed 27 branch locations for a tri-state bank. Bartram said the experience of taking care of people’s most liquid assets – cash and bank accounts – has proven her to be a trustworthy and discreet person with a level of confidentiality that is imperative for the tax assessor/collector position. Bartram is a graduate of University of Mississippi School of Banking and American Institute of Banking.

“I was responsible for day-to-day operations, so I have the managerial experience necessary to efficiently run a department,” Bartram said. “Not only do you need to know how to carry out the duties [of the position], but you also need to know how to deal with the public and the constituents. So I know this managerial experience of those 20 years will play a big part in running the office.”

Bartram said the tax collector/assessor’s office serves all Lincoln County residents. Therefore it requires someone who listens, someone who is accessible and someone who is going to respect taxpayers and have employees do the same.

“If it concerns them, it concerns me; if it matters to them, it matters to me; and if it’s important to them, it’s important to me,” she said.

Bartram said she believes the tax assessor and collector’s office has a big impact on the area, and she would work to keep it running smoothly and safely.

“It’s important that the infrastructure [of the office] is maintained at a high efficiency because it generates a high level of revenue for the government of Lincoln County,” she said.

“I have a servant’s heart. I love to help people, and I love Lincoln County,” she said. “I’m a fifth-generation Lincoln County resident, and I have a 13-year-old daughter. I care about the future of Lincoln County – not just because of my family and my ancestry – but [I care] for her future and her family. I have a vested interest in our future and our children’s.”

Bartram and her daughter, Julie Anna, are members of Calvary Baptist Church in Bogue Chitto.

Rita Goss is a Lincoln County native seeking re-election for her second term as tax assessor/collector. Previously, Goss worked at Brown Electric and held positions in banking and accounting. She has an associate’s degree in data processing degree. Goss said the experience and knowledge she has gained in her three years as assessor/collector have equipped her for a second term.

“I have a heart for serving the people, and I believe that I’ve shown strong leadership [thus far],” Goss said. “And I believe I can continue to serve the people and [continue] moving Lincoln County forward in a positive direction.”

In her first three years she has worked to make the tax office more efficient by integrating technologies. Goss said the goal she had going into her first term was to put the office’s land roll maps online. Land roll maps are maps denoting various tax districts, which are used by realtors, surveyors, loan officers, schools and attorneys. Before, people would need to come in to make copies at the tax office whereas now they can be accessed online.

“That has been an awesome accomplishment to put those land roll maps online. It brings us in to the 21st century,” Goss said. “To accomplish that goal in such a short time I think says a lot.”

Goss said her future goal is to continue the extensive digitizing process to enable resident to pay their taxes and eventually renew car tags online. The fact that the county’s out-of-date solid waste accounts are tied to car tags makes that process a difficult undertaking.

Goss said her office has also done away with the four-part homestead filing paper. She said they are now able to print them in-office on regular copy paper. Goss also mentioned that while combining the tax offices in to one central location has not yet been possible, most all deputy clerks in both offices are cross-trained in more than one area.

“My door is always open to each and every taxpayer, and [I strive] to be available to them,” she said.

Goss, her husband, Ken, and daughter, Emily, are active members of Gum Grove Baptist Church.

Blake Pickering is a lifetime resident of Lincoln County and is a staff accountant for the Lincoln County School District, where he has been trained to be the business manager for nearly the past six years. Pickering has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Mississippi College. He said after serving the people of the Lincoln County School District, he wants to serve the entirety of Lincoln County.

“I think that with that relevant education and job experience that makes me uniquely qualified for the position and provides me with the best opportunities for success,” Pickering said.

Pickering said he wants to improve the efficiency of the office, saying that he does not believe anyone should have to wait 30 minutes to pay their taxes, and that phone calls should never go unanswered.

He also said he wants to look into online tax paying to streamline the payment process and make it to where residents do not have to come to the office as frequently. Pickering said he would work with the Board of Supervisors to see what options are available to assist him in that goal.

If elected, Pickering said he would adopt an open-door policy to acknowledge taxpayers’ concerns and assist in finding solutions.

“I want to make sure that I’m present in that office as much as possible because I want the taxpayers in Lincoln County to know that I understand that I work for them,” he said. “Whether they voted for me or not, they put me in there, and I should be available to them.”

Pickering said he believes that he could positively affect change.

“Lincoln County, Brookhaven and the people [here] are so wonderful that I want to be a part of making my home even better than it already is,” he said. “I have a 9-month-old daughter, and I married and am now raising my family here, so I have a vested interest in making Lincoln County as good as it could possibly be.”

Pickering graduated from West Lincoln Attendance Center, and attends Pleasant Grove Baptist Church with wife, Nicole, and daughter, Lexi.

Wendy Smith was born and raised in Brookhaven and has worked with Lincoln County for a total of nine years — the first five in the tax assessor/collector’s office, and four years over accounts payable until Nov. 1, when she began her work as human resources administrator. She also worked for three years with the Mississippi Department of Revenue and in that role worked closely with state auditors with investigations as well as routine audits. Smith studied accounting at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Smith said she has a great desire to serve the public. Smith said when she took over accounts payable, she found money being spent on maintenance agreements on some long-gone county equipment that was never taken off the books.

“I’ve already been looking after the taxpayers dollars in that office,” Smith said. “Now I want to assist the taxpayers [further]. I want a friendly atmosphere, and an open door policy. I want them to be able to come into my office, and let’s work together to solve the issues they have.

“Being a tax collector isn’t an 8 to 5 job,” she said. “It’s a round the clock job and that’s the kind of personal attention I want to bring to the taxpayers.”

Smith said if elected, she would like to see the two offices of tax assessor and collector in the same physical location. Currently, residents have to travel between the courthouse and a separate building in the parking lot. Smith said this would enable cross-training between the offices, cut back on time that the counter is unattended and be more convenient for taxpayers.

Smith said she also wants to update and correct county records, as there are overdue solid waste accounts that weren’t closed when someone moved. These accounts make county debt look worse than it is, she said. Smith said enabling online tax paying would help decrease wait times and streamline the process.

“I love the people of Lincoln County and want to serve the people of Lincoln County,” Smith said. “And I [would] look forward to being their tax collector and assessor. I believe that I can bring the experience and personal attention back to that office that the taxpayers of Lincoln County need.”

Smith and husband, Steven, have three children, Stephanie, James and Steven, and are active members of First Baptist Church.