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Two in race to be leader of Lincoln County tax office

The incumbent tax assessor/collector for Lincoln County has upgraded technology, provided online payment options and generated over $100,000 in additional net revenue through the online land sale he introduced to the office, he said.

His opponent has her own plans, which include combining the two offices back into one location to save taxpayers time and increase the accessibility to both offices and the person in charge.

The two candidates for Lincoln County tax assessor/collector — Republicans Blake Pickering and Wendy Mullen Smith — emailed their responses to four questions.

Blake Pickering, 32, Lincoln County tax assessor/collector

Experience for the office: I have served as your tax assessor/collector for the past four years. Prior to that, I was the assistant business manager for the Lincoln County School District for six years. I received my degree in accounting from Mississippi College. I am trained and have experience in auditing, internal controls, accounting and management. I have completed over 300 hours of assessment training and over 100 hours of collector training. I have served on the Mississippi Association of Collectors and Assessors Legislative Committee for the past four years, giving you an advocate on the issues that concern your money. 

Do any procedures in the tax assessor/collector’s office need to be streamlined to improve efficiency, or do you believe the office runs as smoothly as possible?   

We have made great strides in improving level of service received when people enter the tax collector’s office. By upgrading our technology and improving our procedures, we have cut average wait times in half. With that said, we absolutely have plenty of room to continue to improve. I can assure you that I will never be content with the way this office is running. We will always be striving to be better.

Why should voters elect you to serve as Lincoln County Tax Assessor/Collector?   

I have maintained a fair and efficient office. My door has always been open and will continue to be open. I will continue to be present and available while maintaining transparency so that you as the taxpayer can trust that your money is being handled the right way. Through three private and one state audit, the tax assessor/collector’s office has had no audit findings and I do not plan on that streak changing as long as I am in office. We have fulfilled our promise of providing an online payment option, and generated over $100,000 in additional net revenue via the online land sale at no cost to the taxpayer.

What is the biggest issue facing the Lincoln County Tax Assessor/Collector’s office?

I think the primary issue facing this office is the same as it was and always will be; maintaining a fair and honest office that you can trust; an office that lives by the motto “Treat everyone the same, and treat everyone the way that I would like to be treated.” This includes running the office where our tax dollars are used as responsibly as possible, ever mindful of the already huge burden that our county’s taxpayers bear. 

What are the two main objectives you would want to accomplish if elected as the Lincoln County tax assessor/collector?   

Our primary objective is to do anything we can to improve the taxpayers interaction with our office and make it as convenient as possible. More specifically, I would like to combine the collector’s (car tag) and solid waste offices into one office that has every clerk cross-trained to help you. This means more clerks and hopefully shorter wait times, with better management of the phone system. Second, I will improve our performance on handling call volume during peak times. That is my primary focus right now and the plans are in the works to improve our procedures and our technology to prevent the phone lines from becoming overloaded.

Wendy Mullen Smith, 54, payroll coordinator for Copiah-Lincoln Community College

Experience for the office: More than 20 years of office management and customer service, three years with Mississippi Department of Revenue in the tags and titles division, strong experience working directly with Mississippi State Auditor’s office and private audit firms, and six years working in accounts payable and payroll for the Board of Supervisors of Lincoln County.

Do any procedures in the tax assessor/collector’s office need to be streamlined to improve efficiency, or do you believe the office runs as smoothly as possible?   

I plan to cross-train all employees who work the counters in all areas. This process of cross training will allow for each workstation to be manned during peak rush hours. I am looking forward to working close to the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors to relocate the offices into the same location. In doing so, we will reduce the taxpayers’ time and increase the accessibility to both offices. The combining of the two offices will allow me to be more accessible and most important, accountable to the taxpayers of Lincoln County and Brookhaven. 

Why should voters elect you to serve as Lincoln County tax assessor/collector?   

As you next tax assessor/collector, I will serve the taxpayers with integrity, compassion, highest quality of honesty and with the strongest moral principles. My qualifying experiences consist of over 20 years of office management and customer service. This includes six years of experience directly with and learning from Nancy Jordan, a former Lincoln County tax assessor/collector and three years of experience with Mississippi Department of Revenue in the tags and titles division. Additionally, I have strong experience working directly with the Mississippi State Auditor’s office and private audit firms to ensure transparency and accountability for your tax dollars. I also spent six years working in accounts payable and payroll for the Board of Supervisors of Lincoln County. For nearly a decade, I have been looking after your tax dollars, gaining experience and approaching every day with the integrity needed in the tax assessors/collectors office.

What is the biggest issue facing the Lincoln County tax assessor/collector’s office?

Maintaining an open-door policy for everyone. Being a leader who is hands on with the taxpayers as well as with the employees. Being accessible and demonstrating the idea of an open-door policy by providing the taxpayers with my personal cell phone number to allow them to reach out to me with their questions. Maintain a staffed counter to reduce lines during peak hours can be accomplished by cross training employees. Being available to answer questions with the knowledge regarding millage rate increase/decrease and having the ability to communicate the changes to the taxpayers in a timely manner. Understanding the state mandated changes and again having the knowledge and experience in conveying the changes when asked. Set fair, accurate and uniform values for personal and real property across the city and county.

What are the two main objectives you would want to accomplish if elected as the Lincoln County tax assessor/collector?

If I was limited to two objectives to reach as your tax assessor/collector, it will be to have an open-door policy and combining the two offices back into one location. Having an open-door policy and treating everyone with respect and fairness will allow me to answer questions and concerns that an individual may have with knowledge of the subject at hand. Combining the offices will allow for taxpayers to move between offices with ease and allow me to be more assessable and accountable to the taxpayers of Lincoln County.

Tax assessor/collector’s duties

According to the website, golincolnms.com, the tax assessor/collector is an elected, four-year term. The tax assessor is required to annually locate, class and assess all taxable property within the county, and is responsible for setting fair, uniform and accurate values for each parcel of real and personal property. The tax assessor is also charged by the Board of Supervisors to maintain current ownership maps of the county. In addition to these appraisal duties, the assessor/collector works daily with local and national agencies to promote the economic well being of the county and its citizens.

The tax collector is responsible for the collection of taxes on real property, personal property, manufactured homes, automobiles, motorcycles, motor homes, trailers and airplanes.

The tax collector must advertise and hold a tax sale once a year for any unpaid taxes on real estate or any special assessments. Accurate records must be kept at all times since this office is involved in the collection of taxes that help fund a variety of government services.

Voting information

Election Day for primaries is Aug. 6 with a runoff, if needed, set for Aug. 27. General Election Day is Nov. 5.

Absentee voting is underway through Aug. 3 at noon at the Lincoln County Circuit Clerk’s office, which is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mail ballots can be requested, but the law requires they be returned by mail only by Aug. 5. Mailed ballots cannot be returned in person at the office, said Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Dustin Bairfield.

People may vote absentee for several reasons, including if they will be out of town on

Election Day, if they are temporarily or permanently disabled or if they are 65 or older, Bairfield said.

To see sample primary ballots, visit www.lincolncircuitcourt.com and click on “elections.”