Having worked as Hays County’s Tax Assessor Collector for the last 25 years, Luanne Caraway has taken taxpayer frustrations in stride.
After all, the primary source of resident rancor toward Caraway involves something her office doesn’t necessarily cover.
To be clear, the Tax Assessor’s office doesn’t determine what a person’s annual property taxes are going to be. That’s the Central Appraisal District’s job. The Tax Assessor instead calculates what the CAD gives them and sends the bill.
Amid the ups-and-downs with a job that can be tough at times, Caraway, who is retiring this week, said she has been proud to serve in a role that is critically important not only to taxpayers, but also the county and municipalities.
“It’s been an honor to serve the people of Hays County. I enjoy it. Not so much the politics, but the job,” Caraway said. “It’s a very rewarding job and I’m glad I have been able to do this job.”
Caraway, who was appointed to the job in May 1994, said the Tax Assessor Collector’s office role has grown along the county it serves. Back then, the office was partially computerized, which led Caraway to learn the intracies of a new digital and existing analog format.
While she had experience in property taxes, based on her working as a delinquent tax attorney for nine years beforehand, Caraway had to “lot to learn” on the motor vehicle side. The role of the Tax Assessor Collector includes handling car titles and vehicle registration, among a myriad of other tasks.
Eventually, Hays County’s system modernized over the years and has been upgraded a handful of times. Amid the technology changes, Caraway said the staff at the Tax Assessor’s Office has advanced with the teams and has brought the office into the 21st century.
In addition, Caraway was also proud to add several substations over the years for a growing populace.
When she started, Hays County had fewer than 80,000 people and there were less than 40,000 accounts on the property tax rolls.
Today, the Tax Assessor Collector’s office has close to 100,000 accounts on the rolls for a county that now houses 215,000 people.
“It was a lot of changes all at once. It was huge. But we made it and survived,” Caraway said.
One challenge to the job is keeping up with the new laws set by the Legislature every two years. Caraway said she and other Tax Assessor Collectors across the state attend various seminars to stay up-to-date on the latest rules.
Tax Assessor Collectors from across the state also work with legislators to understand what they are doing and how it’s going to impact taxpayers.
Ensuring the office is running efficiently while also accommodating for the rapid growth is a continued challenge her predecessor will have to take on, too.
That includes trying to keep substations fully staffed as possible, along with offering more options to pay. Even with new technologies, Caraway said some residents are used to dealing with physical transactions and do bring money personally, too.
“It’s a job, not just a political position, that needs a lot of hands-on work,” Caraway said. “We have to pay attention because of the personal liability. This position is liable for every penny that comes through this office.”
The job also has had its share of lighter moments over the years. Caraway specifically recalled a resident who made good on his promise to pay his property tax bill in coins as a statement against high taxes.
“We were prepared for it,” Caraway said. “We told him the only way to accept it is if it’s in roll coints certified by the bank, and he did it.”
While there can be frustrations, as with any job, Caraway said there are many more nice people than mean people to work with. She ultimately credited the efforts of her entire staff for their hard work over the years.
“It’s a very rewarding job and I’m glad I’ve been able to do it,” Caraway said. “But I’m looking to spend time with my family and new grandkids.”