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Collecting more than controversy; interim collector cleans up office, streamlines $135-million haul.

Collecting More Than Controversy

When Buell James took over as the temporary tax collector for Pulaski County last July, his predecessor Ken Taylor had just resigned and morale in the office had hit bottom. Looking back on it, James walked into a taxing situation but he sure didn't act like it.

James, chief deputy assessor for the state since 1981, was made tax collector until the end of the year. His main goals were to get the office in shape for the new collector and also stay away from politics.

"I wanted politics left out of the office," James recalls. "Employee relations were strained because Mr. Taylor had some strong supporters when he left. There were certain ones that would have preferred I had not come down."

One of the main criticisms of Taylor was that he rarely showed up at the office. Last summer, for example, a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat followed Taylor for four days and found that he averaged only two-and-a-half hours a day in the office.

In spite of that, Taylor ran for office again but lost in the Democratic primary to Ed Maples, a 33-year-old counselor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. (Maples beat Republican challenger Charles Hanson by about five thousand votes in last week's general election).

Improved Relations

Although he'll vacate his position soon, James already has smoothed the way for Maples by improving relations with employees and taxpayers alike.

For starters, James made sure to let employees know that "I'm here, available and accessible." He also opened the office thirty minutes earlier to help alleviate long lines and speed up the process that brings an annual $135 million in taxes to the county's coffer.

Kay Wyse, a deputy collector, says that before James arrived, the office had no leadership. "Just the fact that he's here - that's a great change."

James also sat down with each of the office's 38 employees to learn their duties and how the office is run. Then he set about to upgrade some of the positions that deserved salary increases. He also created personnel policies and job performance evaluations that he will pass along to Maples at the end of the year.

James also learned that the office could afford to lose about 10 people and he feels that some positions gradually can be eliminated.

Shortly after winning the tax collector's job, Maples says he agrees that the office staff should be stream-lined and he also wants to update the computer system.

"I want to make things more appealing to the public," says Maples. He also hopes that the state legislature will help create a collection system where people can pay their personal property taxes and their real estate taxes at local banks instead of driving downtown to the collection office.

Maples and James will meet soon to discuss the condition of the office. "If he recommends something, in all likelihood I'll do it," says Maples.

Breakdown Of


James has been a popular replacement for Taylor and even Taylor's supporters admit James has made positive changes in the office. One of the most popular, at least for taxpayers, is the list on each tax bill of how and where tax dollars are spent.

"If it wasn't for taxes, we could probably have a pretty good life," says James jokingly. "It takes all the fun out of it."

When James heads back to his old office, he'll be helping to assess 3,000 new Pulaski County businesses that will increase the tax base and give the new collector even more work to do.

Maples looks to be a positive successor, although some of Taylor's loyal supporters were bitter and endorsed Maples' Republican opponent Charles Hanson.

While James was not in his job long enough to produce any sweeping changes, he has made a lot of friends and has some of them wondering if he shouldn't run for office.

Like a true diplomat, James wouldn't touch that speculation except to say:

"I keep all options open, but I don't have any plans."

PHOTO : A PEOPLE PERSON: In the short time that he's filled in as tax collector, Buell James has provided leadership and helped employee relations.
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Title Annotation:Buell James, temporary tax collector for Pulaski County, Arkansas
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 12, 1990
Previous Article:Need to fill a loan order? Better head for the border.
Next Article:Political squeeze: Arkansas farmers losing $115.5 million market to Mid-East war.

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