A Visionary Path to Property Tax Innovation

Necessity is the mother of invention.

This proverb is often attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. And while we've come to use similar words in all kinds of situations, there's a case to be made — many cases to be made, actually — for a more apt expression: Visionary leadership and necessity are the mother of invention.

I've seen a great deal of evidence in my professional life that supports this assertion, but today I want to share one example — the example that started my career working with visionary property tax leaders.

What does visionary leadership look like in the world of property tax assessment and collection?

Let's start with Emmett Curl, Revenue Director (Assessor and Collector) of Wake County, North Carolina, who was tired of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Tired of trying to make off-the-shelf tax software fit his county's aspirational property tax practices.

He wanted property tax software that was designed around the specific needs and workflows of his organization and constituents. We worked with Emmett and his management team to create an innovative property tax software that unleashed, automated, and operationalized their unique, aspirational vision.

Which turned out to be a huge win. According to Emmett:

"With our new software and partner, our organization was finally able to deliver on the innovation and performance that we knew our jurisdiction and our taxpayers deserved, rather than struggle with the limitations of our previous system."

That was visionary leadership.

Next up, Kevin Leonard, Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC), who believed that Wake County's original frustrations and challenges were felt well beyond one jurisdiction. Kevin recognized the opportunity for all 100 counties in North Carolina to be more than the sum of their parts in the property tax arena.

NCACC wanted to offer every county in the state the innovative software and practices that had been pioneered in Wake County — and to get every participating county to collaborate on continuously improving the software and sharing their best practices across the state. NCACC and Farragut worked together to establish a public-private partnership, giving rise to NCPTS and its Oversight Committee, comprised of representatives from participating counties.

This, too, counted as a clear win. Kevin said:

"It was evident to me that we had the opportunity and that we owed it to our counties to make this the best property tax solution in the state and in the nation. We have been so lucky to have county leaders and a partner who share that vision."

That was also visionary leadership.

What does invention — innovation — look like in the world of property tax assessment and collection?

Immense benefits have accrued not only for the visionaries in this case, but also for those with whom they work and those they serve. To name just a few of those benefits:

• The new software led to significant improvements in internal operations. Efficiency metrics such as staff-to-parcels and staff-to-revenue ratios skyrocketed. The resulting efficiency gains allowed the county to do more for their jurisdiction and their taxpayers — within their existing budgets.

• Based on expert advice and using state-of-the-art analytics, algorithms, and additional computer assisted mass appraisal (CAMA) tools, the new software has provided for more accurate, consistent, equitable, and efficient appraisals and valuations for taxpayers within and across jurisdictions in the state.

• Collections rates climbed 1-2% higher in the 19 participating counties, representing 51% of the state’s property tax base, than in the non-participating counties. That increase translates into millions of dollars of additional revenue in those counties — money that can be used to further support the critical services they provide to their citizens.

• With ownership of the software source code and establishment of a collaborative structure for the software's oversight, NCACC has effectively given counties the keys to the castle. That is, the counties now have a dedicated forum for sharing best practices freely and broadly and for working together on ongoing innovations as conditions change and their needs evolve.

Why is this such an important story?

It's not easy to deviate from the status quo. Even when you have license to think creatively, there's not often a straight line from thinking creatively to acting boldly. That's what makes this story so inspiring. It's a story of pushing past the status quo, of thinking creatively, acting boldly, and making transformational changes in pursuit of a better way and a fuller potential.

Visionary leadership and necessity are the mother of invention.

If you're interested in learning more about NCPTS (available nationally under the name Arist) or our work with other visionary leaders in search of transformational results, please reach out to me here or find me at Farragut.
Jeff McDonald
VP, Local Government Solutions

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