2014 Joseph E. Hunt Distinguished Jurisdiction Award: Large County

Durham, NC – February 18th, 2015. Posted by Shelley Hare.

Intro: At the 2014 North Carolina Association of Assessing Officers (NCAAO) Fall Conference in Wilmington, Durham County Tax Administrator Kim Simpson was awarded the Joseph E. Hunt Distinguished Jurisdiction Award on behalf of the Durham County Tax Office.

Each year, honorees of this award are selected based on achievements in areas of property tax assessment and/or collection, the implementation of a project, or endeavors to enhance the overall effectiveness of their county tax department.

Farragut interviewed Simpson to gain her perspective on this recognition of her department’s achievements and gain insight into the successful projects & practices implemented by her and her staff.

Simpson has been a part of the Durham County Tax Office for the last 18 years and has served as their Tax Administrator since 2008. In addition to her seat on the executive board of the NCAAO, where she serves as co-chair of both the Joint Legislative Committee & the Education Committee, Simpson also holds memberships in the International Association of Assessing Officers and the NC Tax Collectors Association.

Promoting Transparency & Improving Taxpayers’ Satisfaction

The Distinguished Jurisdiction Award follows Durham County’s decision to be the first county in NC to implement an online appeals solution for the public, where the public can view the status of their appeal & select comparable sales to attach to their appeal.

Creating access to this online platform for citizens allows taxpayers to better educate themselves on the appeals process, submit or check on the status of a filed appeal at any time and access information 24/7 - without having to visit their office in-person.

“The idea came about as a result of several things,” Simpson told us. “During the appeal process I witnessed many citizens who did not understand certain requirements, which fueled frustration with our office. Many citizens, even though multiple publications were provided at the time of appeal regarding the effective date of the reappraisal, just ignored this. Appraisal staff spent many hours trying to get our citizens to understand the statutes and how they would need to determine if our value was correct as of our last general reappraisal.”

“Our office has used other online tools and found that if you help the taxpayer take each question and ensure they provide the appropriate information, then the process is much smoother,” continued Simpson. “It was also important for me to have the taxpayer obtain as much information from our website that could help them with the review of their value. Many citizens were not aware of how to find comparable sales and the current website was cumbersome. Therefore it was important to help show the taxpayer what the tax office used to appraise their value, and allow them to experience the transparency.”

Distinguished Performance

This project was a huge & highly successful undertaking for their office! In addition to better serving taxpayers, the new appeals platform will also increase productivity and cost efficiencies for the county.

“Another goal of the project was to reduce the number of manual input into our CAMA system, as well as a way for me to monitor how responsive our office was to the taxpayer,” Simpson continued. “The fact that the taxpayer could see where they were in the process of the appeal without calling our office reduced unnecessary calls to our call center. The taxpayer now receives notifications on a regular basis on the status of the appeal, as well via email, and it helps to ensure we keep the citizen engaged in the appeal process.”

It is the love of working with citizens and educating them that has kept her motivated over the years. “I am excited to see movement in the improvement on how we deal with citizens when appealing value,” Simpson shared. “It’s a complicated process for citizens and often the lack of communication and the diligence we put forth in the process causes additional frustration with government officials. Consistency is clearly going to be the key across the state on how successful we are as tax officials. Citizens owning property in multiple locations experiencing different processes causes many issues for the tax department and the citizens.”

Any Advice?

We asked Simpson if she wouldn’t mind sharing advice with others in the tax industry looking to enhance the overall effectiveness of their office & achieve similar success:

“One area that I have found that may cause departments in local government the inability to make their jurisdiction stand out is the fear of changing what you are comfortable doing,” Simpson shared with us. “Often, we also tend not to include local officials in the process in fear they may become too involved in our processes. But I have found the opposite, often letting them know where you would like to go as a department and keeping them informed, provides you resources to get things done.”

“We have also implemented the ability to obtain a lot of information directly from our website, therefore allowing citizens to obtain many layers of information from multiple sources through data sharing,” said Simpson. “For example, the ability to see the building permits occurring in areas of the county, sales data, census data and the historical data showing the changes occurring with your county.”

Award Recognition

Simpson was asked how it felt to be recognized by her peers for the implementation of this project to provide a more user-friendly online appeals solution to better inform the public:

“It is always an honor to receive recognition on the progress our county is making,” Simpson told us. “When we move forward with a project in Durham, it is always a challenge to step out of our comfort zone. And the fact that we do, and then it’s recognized, gives validation that we are moving in the right direction as a department. We also have hopes that what we have done will serve as a model to our peers to improve their processes.”