Tax Collectors on the Street
It’s become a ritual. You could set your alarm by it.
Every day, Monday through Friday at 9:05 a.m., Herb Barbour climbs behind the wheel of a late model, blue car, checks his paperwork, turns the ignition key and begins his daily journey through the city.
Herb, a 28-year veteran of the Commissioner of Revenue’s Office, is looking for people who, for one reason or another, have failed to pay their taxes. But … if you think Herb Barbour is the reincarnation of the nasty, despicable tax collectors made famous in countless books, movies and TV shows … guess again. Herb Barbour is a kind, caring man who does his job with the right touch of courtesy, compassion and professionalism. “I rely on what I call the two P’s. Patience and personality’, Barbour said. “You can get a lot more with honey than you can with vinegar”.
Barbour is a member of the Commissioner of Revenue’s tax compliance team – six men and women who are charged with the responsibility of convincing delinquent taxpayers, mostly businesses and restaurants, that paying taxes is the American Way– like Mom, Apple Pie and Baseball. Taxes are the price of doing business in the city.
The team was established almost 14 years ago when Sharon McDonald became the first woman to be elected to the post of Commissioner of Revenue. In fact, she was the first woman elected to a constitutional office in the history of the city. ”I decided that the office had to become more aggressive in pursing delinquent taxpayers”, McDonald said. “It’s critical that everyone pays their fair share”.
In 2009, the tax compliance team generated almost $3 million dollars in tax revenue: $3 million dollars that was added to an annual budget that was already stretched by an economy that refuses to loosen its vice-like grip on the city, state and nation.
Each April, the team is handed a list of delinquent taxpayers. It’s up to the team members to follow up on each and every name. Last year’s 2010 list contained 1300 names. In a relatively short period of time … about three months …. that list gets whittled down to 800 names. “The tax compliance team plays a critical role in the operation of this office”, McDonald said. “Without these men and women, the city would lose millions of dollars each year – money that can be used for schools, public safety, libraries and recreation centers”.
During his years as a tax compliance officer, Herb Barbour says he’s only encountered one belligerent individual who required a quick call to the police. “The large majority of the people that I come in contact are friendly,” Barbour says. “They want to pay their taxes. We just have to remind them to pay”.