League of Women Voters Candidates Forum: Tax Assessor-Collector candidates tout service, attention to detail

by Anita Miller

“Customer care” as well as familiarity with the expected duties was stressed by both incumbent Hays County Tax Assessor-Collector Jennifer O’Kane and challenger Daphne Tenorio during the League of Women Voters webinar Sept. 24.

O’Kane, a Republican who served eight years as an assistant tax assessor-collector before being appointed by county commissioners in 2017 to lead the office, characterized herself as “not a political,” but “a full-time mom of a beautiful daughter and one on the way” who is certified by the state to do this particular job … always looking for innovative ways to use our resources and to save taxpayers money.

Tenorio, the Democratic challenger, resigned her seat on the Kyle City Council in order to run, a decision she said was driven by “a passion to serve every citizen in an equitable, transparent and efficient manner.”

Tenorio said she has more than 20 years in customer care experience as a self-employed accountant with a background in taxes, billing and collections. “I look forward to serving with pride and integrity — always remembering I am here for you.”

When asked how they would approach negotiating contracts, meeting deadlines and monitoring performance, O’Kane said she would take a fact-based approach. “I look at the facts, listen to the people involved and make the best decision I can.”

Tenorio said she would do assessments to create proposals that will be sent out and create a “fundamentally fair grading sheet in which we’ll look at every proposal equally and make sure whoever gets it, gets it based on ability to deliver and on a taxpayer-friendly basis.”

In terms of how they would better educate taxpayers, Tenorio went back to her time on the Kyle council. “As a city council member, I made sure every taxpayer in the city of Kyle knew when the budget cycles were. I educated taxpayers on how to contact the appraisal district, how to file for appeals and how to find the exemption forms for homestead, veteran, disability, whatever exemptions are available to them. That’s something I will continue to do. I believe it is the important aspect of a politician to educate the public and I will continue to do that.”

O’Kane said, “The best way to do that on a daily basis is contact with taxpayers, in person and over the phone. We spend time with them and treat them as our family, our neighbors. We take time and explain in detail according to their questions.”

She also said she is looking to put into a place a media compilation that is “basically a video series” and that would come at no additional cost to taxpayers and would “basically walk citizens through every phase” of the taxing process.

Regarding any possible changes to tracking and auditing income and outgoing payments, O’Kane said, “I think we have an excellent system in place” for when tax statements hit the office. “We have contracts with entities that tell us when we need to pay this payment. It’s a smooth running system and we will continue to use that.” She also said she would “go through the office with a fine-toothed comb” and look at policies and procedures often.”

“Policy and procedure review is important every year, not just once,” Tenorio said. “Policies and procedures must change and be reviewed. I’m going to review every single one and talk to every employee about what works well and what doesn’t and fix things to keep the staff happy.”

She said “checks and balance systems are important. We need to make sure we’re charging 10 cents and not a dollar. We need to make sure every taxpayer knows that bill is correct. Part of the education process is reminding taxpayers they need to look at those bills and make sure they are correct.”

When asked what else they would like voters to know, Tenorio said, “Ultimately the tax assessor-collector’s office is a service organization there to serve the taxpayer,” she said. She cited her years of past service and leadership in the community, her skills and “commitment to transparency and customer care that have prepared me to lead … As a leader in the community I have worked with volunteers and paid staff. My abilities include listening, educating and developing solutions to issues that arise. I am here to serve you. I always strive to improve and make sure everyone is treated equally.”

O’Kane cited her “passion for this position. I love serving my friends and neighbors and I am extremely qualified.” She cited being granted her Professional County Collector’s Liense by the state in 2014. “It’s imperative you have someone in this office that knows what they are doing.”

In closing, O”Kane said, “there is a lot at stake in who runs this office. I have assessed and collected $540 million annually in property tax alone and safeguarded and transferred those correctly in a timely manner to upkeep roads, schools, fire departments and police departments in a timely manner.”

She also noted her “longstanding relationships” with taxing units and citizens. “I have a seasoned team that works with me. It’s imperative you keep a true steward of public funds in this office.”

Tenorio countered, “As a true steward of taxpayer funds, I have worked as a true leader for the city of Kyle in assuring taxpayers. I have been known to be the voice of reason when it come to spending taxpayer money and how it should be spent. The commitment I have to this office and to my community goes back over two decades.” She said she is committed to educating taxpayers about “who their taxing entities are and how to contact them.”

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