New tax assessor wants to make the process better
Morris Guin took the oath of office Friday as Webster Parish's new Tax Assessor ... more than a year after he was elected to the position.
"It's a law we have to follow," said Guin, who replaces retired tax assessor Doris Cheatham. "The tax commission wants the new assessor to go through an entire year of tax rolls before they can be sworn in."
The past year has taught Guina lot about the job, he said. And now, he is ready to implement changes he believes will make his office more accessible and friendly to the public.
"My intent is for people to get more familiar with the assessor's office," Guin said. "If someone needs help, we're here to help them – I know everyone says that when they take office, but I've been here for a year already, so I'm not really new to it any more. I will do what I can to help anybody who needs it, and if I can't help you, I will explain why I can't."
The tax assessor's office operates under a shadow that Guin would like to disappear.
"Taxes are just a bad word," he said. "We get criticized a lot because of what we do.
"A home owner can go along for years paying the same amount in property taxes, then all of a sudden a bond is passed and taxes go up," Guin said. "We get blamed for it when it's not our fault ... but that's just the nature of the beast."
In the end, his office must satisfy the Louisiana Tax Commission in Baton Rouge.
"If we don't do our job, they don't have to accept our tax rolls, and if they don't accept our tax rolls, no money comes to Webster Parish," he said. "Once we file our tax rolls, the legislative auditor has to approve it. After that happens, we contact the sheriff's office to go ahead and print (tax) notices. They (sheriff's office) collect all the monies for the parish and disperse it to the school board, fire districts ... wherever it's supposed to go."
Guin said every four years, his office is required to assess the entire parish – including homes and businesses and the property they occupy. And it must be done in a year's time.
"We are going to do it on a continuing basis," he said. "If you wait until the end of the four years and start trying to do it, it's mass confusion."
In an as-they-go format, Guin said they will assess new houses every year and transfer houses that are sold to the new owner immediately.
Cross-training Guin's nine employees will make the job easier.
"We are going to have three people doing this and documenting it, where before, we just had one," he said. "It will help us keep up. I've been working toward getting everybody cross-trained where we have no 'experts' in the office."
It hasn't always been that way.
"If one person is out, then their job doesn't get done," he pointed out. "We have one person that does the field work ... I have done field work in the past on oil and gas property, but as far as houses and real estate, we have one person on the south end of the parish and one on the north end."
Guin's office is funded by a millage. It pays offices expenses and employee salaries.
"We have good people in our office," he said. "They are hard workers and are interested in helping others and in learning how to do their jobs better."
Guin said residents may not realize that his office has a Global Imaging Satellite (GIS) that allows them an aerial photograph of the entire parish.
"A lot of times houses will get built out in the parish, on a dirt road somewhere, and for various reasons, we don't know about it," he said. "This helps us locate places and helps us keep up. It's been very helpful to us."
The assessor's office has what Guin called "an excellent computer system," with software specifically designed for assessors. He has plans to cross train employees to use it, as well.
Guin has experienced the taxing process from two angles. Before he was elected as tax assessor, Guin spent 11 years as tax collector at the Webster Parish Sheriff's Office.
"I have learned that if the assessor doesn't do their job right, it piles up on the collector (sheriff's department)," he said. "Everyone should have to go through the tax collecting process before they come to the assessor's office to realize the problems that can be caused by the assessor if they don't do their job. It was the most valuable thing that happened to me before becoming assessor."