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Tax commissioner hopefuls pledge upgrades
0629Keith Echols
Keith Echols

A visit to the tax commissioner’s office is not an errand most look forward to, but both candidates running for the position say they aim to make the experience as quick and painless as possible.

The tax commissioner is the government official who collects and processes taxes and then disperses the funds to the different government agencies. The tax commissioner also processes license tags for cars.

"Every opportunity, I will be improving the operations of the office and make it more taxpayer friendly and less stressful for taxpayers to come in," incumbent Tax Commissioner Keith Echols said.

James Carroll "J.C." Smith, who is challenging Echols for the position, said "nobody likes to pay taxes. But we’re going to make it as pleasant an experience as possible if I’m the tax commissioner."

Smith, who is retired from the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center in Gainesville, said he would be able to improve the way the way the tax commissioner’s office is run.

"Taking care of the management of the office in a way it should be done I think it is very important, and I believe if you look at public records, that’s not being done right now," Smith said.

Audit findings of the tax commissioner’s office from 2006 and 2007 show that bank statements could not be reconciled for the entire year.

"Bank accounts should be reconciled on a monthly basis," Banks and Carter, the company responsible for the audit, wrote in the report.

Duane Schlereth, an auditor with the company, said "it is unusual" for statements to be unbalanced for so long.

"It’s taken several years to get fixed. It’s not right; it should have been fixed the first year," he said of the Hall County Tax Commission office.

Since the 2007 audit there have been "vast improvements" in the office because an employee was hired specifically to handle the accounts, Schlereth said.

"There has been some questions about procedures at the present time. I’ve got the improvement in that already, but I’m going to look at ways of improving operations," Echols said.

Echols said his 7 years of experience make him a better fit for the job.

"There’s just more than taking in the money and dispersing it," he said.

Smith said he has more than 30 years of experience working with both small and large businesses that qualify him to be tax commissioner. He also has served as president of the Board of Trustees of the Hall County Library System.

Echols said he has made improvements in his tenure as tax commissioner by expanding the North and South Hall offices so they can renew vehicle tags. Before the offices only dealt with taxes.

If elected, he would like to make the South Hall office handicap accessible, Smith said.

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