DALTON, Ga. - These days finding money to fill up the gas tank can be difficult, never mind extra cash to pay property taxes. But in 2009, the Whitfield County tax commissioner's office managed to collect 98 percent of taxes assessed in the county.
Whitfield tax collections for 2010 still are being completed, but the latest count this week showed about 3,000 customers out of more than 50,000 accounts were 90 days late in making payments. This time last year, about 5,700 were 90 days late.
Danny Sane, who has been tax commissioner for 19 years, said what works is serving customers and making it as easy as possible for people to pay their taxes.
"People don't expect government to work with them," he said. "When you work with them, people will pay their taxes. We have an attitude of service here."
In 2010, the county identified 286 properties that were more than three years behind on tax collections, which is when the tax office sells the property for past due taxes. Sane said he worked with owners so that only eight properties had to be sold.
"The county [government] is better off and the community is better off when we work together," he said.
According to state records, many neighboring counties saw a drop in tax collection rates in 2009 compared to 2008. Murray County went from 95 percent to 91 percent. Catoosa, Dade, Gordon and Walker counties all had around a 1 percent decline, with collection rates ranging from 90 to 95 percent.
Reg Lansberry, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Revenue, said the department does not provide oversight to local tax collection offices and could not comment on average tax collections for the state. The department reviews local tax digests only to determine if they are legal under Georgia law, Lansberry said.
Sane credits setting up payment plans, using the latest technology and providing exceptional service as the keys to his office's success.
No one at his office has voice mail, and the person who initially answers the phone uses several computer screens to monitor who in the office is on the phone or at their desk when she decides where to send the call, he said.
"You get a human being every time you call," Sane said. "And you aren't shuffled from one person to the next."
The office also uses the latest technology whenever possible, he said.
Imaging equipment scans checks, which then can be automatically deposited numerous times a day. And vehicle tags and property taxes can be paid online.
This year, Sane is installing a computer program that will allow taxpayers to download and print their tax bills from home. Right now, they have the ability to see their tax bills online but cannot download or print them, he said.
Within a few years, Sane hopes the program, which costs several thousand dollars, will mean his office no longer will mail tax bills to thousands of people who opt to download the bills. Since the tax office spends about $60,000 to mail bills every year, the county could save thousands of dollars.
Sane was an organizing member of the Tax Commissioners' Technology Development Council of Georgia, which was created 10 years ago. The group now has 40 tax commissioner members across the state.
The group's goal is to create innovative offices, a paperless work environment and share information, knowledge and experience, according to its website. The group has a three-day annual conference at which businesses showcase the latest technology.
"There is no sense in reinventing the wheel," Sane said. "I don't need to have a great idea if I can steal one. It's a great organization."
Lastly, Sane said he works with anyone who cannot pay their taxes to set up a payment plan.
For example, a man who lost his job recently was able to pay $2,000 in back taxes by making a monthly payment of $200, he said.
"It doubles my workload, but it is worth it," Sane said. Numbers were not available for how many people use a payment plan to pay their taxes, he said.