Beaufort County's treasurer says he's spent at least $158,000 less so far this fiscal year than his predecessor did.
Doug Henderson, who took office in July, has been working to cut costs and improve employee accountability and says the effort is paying off.
"Some of the savings that we think we have are not measurable in dollars. Some of the savings we think we have are in productivity and efficiency," Henderson said.
The largest savings -- about $65,000 -- came from cutting advertising costs, Henderson said. Much of the savings on advertising was the result of a a two-week program that allowed property owners to escape penalties on late tax bills if they paid their past-due taxes. Property owners paid up on about 2,200 delinquent accounts, allowing the Treasurer's Office to buy less space in newspapers than in the past to list the properties prior to the county's annual tax sale, Henderson said.
The amnesty program also resulted in a $750,000 gain in tax revenues compared to the year before. Henderson said the amnesty was "a one-time deal," and penalties for late taxes probably won't be waived again.The amnesty helped property owners who might have been stretched financially during the recession, he said, but he doesn't want to repeat it.
Fewer employees and overtime hours, along with reduced use of office supplies, have saved about $50,000 since the county's fiscal year began July 1, according to Henderson's calculations. The number of employees in the office has been trimmed from 27 to 22 since then.
Henderson was elected to a four-year term after ousting 20-year incumbent Joy Logan. Toward the end of Logan's tenure, investigators discovered that an employee had embezzled $210,000 by writing checks to nonexistent companies.
That and several other problems in the office were the result of loose management, Henderson said.
"Nobody was checking behind someone to see if they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. ... It was lack of management, lack of leadership and lack of controls," he said.
County Chief Financial Officer David Starkey said a $42,000 security system, including 15 cameras and two monitoring systems, was a recent but "long-overdue" update to the office.
Now that some costs have been trimmed and security is better, Henderson said he wants to accomplish two more short-term goals.
Henderson promised during his campaign to make it easier for people paying property taxes on their vehicles for the first time to get license plates and renewal stickers. Currently, they have to go to the Treasurer's Office to pay their taxes then make another trip to a state Department of Motor Vehicles office to pick up their plates and renewal stickers.
Henderson wants a one-stop process that would allow vehicle owners to get their plates and stickers at the Treasurer's Office at the same time they pay their taxes and avoid the trip to the DMV.
"When people pay their taxes they can get the decals at the same time," he said.
After spending 35 years in the banking business, Henderson said he plans to remodel the Beaufort County offices to look and run more like a bank. If he keeps the price of the renovations below $25,000, approval from the County Council won't be necessary. He said he hopes to start remodeling in mid-April.
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