Beaufort News

New treasurer says customer service will be a focus

When Doug Henderson becomes Beaufort County's new treasurer Friday, he hopes to deliver the kind of change he thinks voters wanted when they elected him in November.

Henderson ousted incumbent Joy Logan and has waited six months for his swearing-in this week. Unlike most elected officers, treasurers' terms end at the conclusion of a fiscal year, not on Jan. 1.

The wait has given the former bank executive time to consider changes in the office.

"We've got a big issue with phone calls not being returned, people not being treated like they think they should be treated," he said.

He wants Treasurer's Office employees to hand out car tags directly, so citizens don't have to wait for them in the mail. He's drafting a "taxpayer bill of rights" to post on billboards in each office.

"I feel like the taxpayers are our customers," Henderson said. "We serve them; we're there for that purpose."

SMOOTH TRANSITION

The last time a new treasurer took office was 1991, after Logan was first elected. There hasn't been a transition in 20 years -- two President Bushes ago.

To ensure a smooth hand-off, county administrator Gary Kubic put Henderson on his administrative payroll earlier this year so he could be brought aboard early.

Since then, Henderson has visited other counties to examine their operations, familiarized himself with Beaufort County's systems and processes, and interviewed current department staff.

"He's not going to walk in there without knowledge of what's going on," Logan said.

While Henderson will focus on customer service, he also hopes to change some things taxpayers might not notice right away.

For example, the cost of pursuing delinquent-tax accounts is paid by fees on late taxes -- $75 if a tax bill is paid after March 31 and $125 after Aug. 31. In past years, those fees have piled up, which Henderson said is a sign they could be lowered.

Henderson said he also will advocate changes in cumbersome and outdated state regulations. One such rule prevents treasurer offices from recognizing a resident's new address until that resident requests it in writing. As a result, the office sometimes has to mail delinquency letters to addresses it knows are wrong.

"Every year we run into the same properties that we don't have the correct address on, and we can't change it because the property owner hasn't requested it," Henderson said. "Some of the laws we have are so antiquated."

SET TO RETIRE

Logan is headed for retirement and said she looks forward to spending more time with her grandchildren.

But after two decades, she said leaving the office and her staff for the last time will be emotional.

"I love these people. They're not employees to me; they're family," Logan said. "I hope they keep me in their thoughts like I'm going to keep them in my thoughts."

Since she was first elected, Beaufort County has nearly doubled -- from 86,425 residents counted by the 1990 census to 162,233 in 2010.

The size of the office has grown apace. When Logan was first elected, the department didn't have offices on Hilton Head Island or in Bluffton, she said. County revenue jumped from $26.7 million in 1990 to $96.3 million in 2010, not accounting for inflation, according to financial reports.

Logan came under fire last year after former employee Casaundra White was arrested for funneling more than $210,000 to dummy corporations White had set up with her ex-boyfriend.

"Being the treasurer of Beaufort County, there's been some ups and downs," Logan said. "But overall, it's been a pleasure in my life to serve this county."

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

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