CONYERS -- For the last 20 years, Rockdale County Tax Commissioner Dan Ray has tried his best to make an unpleasant task as painless as possible.
"We treat people fairly and are nice to them, even when they're unhappy," said Ray, whose office has processed some 170,000 transactions each year. "We try to resolve the problems and issues the best way we can within the boundaries of the law."
Ray, a Republican, announced this spring that he would seek a sixth term as tax commissioner. He will be opposed by Democrat R.J. Hadley in November. He ran against -- and defeated -- incumbent Ray Singleton in 1992, but this will be the first time he's had opposition since taking office.
"Running a campaign is a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun," he said. "You get to see a lot of people who you either haven't seen in a while or you see over the counter. You get to knock on doors and visit with them or meet them at a forum. The best part is meeting with and talking to everybody in the county and to hear what's going on."
Despite technology making a visit to the Tax Commissioner's Office all but a quaint notion in the 21st century, Ray said the majority of citizens still come to pay their ad valorem taxes in person.
"I talked to the tax commissioner in DeKalb County recently and she said 70-80 percent of their work they do through the mail. For us, it's just the opposite," said Ray. "Around 15 percent of our workload with motor vehicle registration tags and renewals is done through the mail. That means 85 percent are coming through the door. It's easier to do it by mail or on the web, so why do they come in? I'd like to think it's because of the customer service we provide, minimizing the hassles and the haggles with pleasant people doing it. We like to continue that small-town, friendly atmosphere in the office."
Ray points with pride to Rockdale County's 99 percent collection rate, which he said benefits the citizenry in many ways.
"Delinquency has risen significantly, but we've worked to stay abreast of it to keep the collection rate up there," he said. "Like any other business, if you don't have that revenue, it has to be made up somewhere else to balance the budget. If we allowed 10 percent not to pay their taxes, then the taxes on everybody else would have to be raised.
"By keeping it at 99-plus percent, everybody pays their fair share. The other outcome of consistent collections is the county's bond rating for the county and the school. We're considered Superior Triple-A, and that's a result of lowering the risk to the bondholders. The bond agencies look at those collection rates and we have a history of high collections that has lowered our interest on our borrowing."
Ray's office has embraced technology, and he points out that desktop document scanners have saved time and money for the 14,000 transactions processed monthly. He adds that taxpayers have also appreciated real-time posting on the web of their tax-bill remittances. Ray also said he's working with Clerk of Courts Ruth Wilson's office on electronic filing of property fi fas (a lien placed on property for failure to pay taxes) and has plans to "piggyback" on the county water department's automated mass bill processing and check processing operation.
"It's always a continuous process of figuring out better ways to do the job," said Ray, who in 2005 was honored by his colleagues as the state's Tax Commissioner of the Year and in 2008 was named Constitutional Office of the Year by the Constitutional Officers Association of Georgia.
A member of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia's Revenue and Finance Committee, Ray said he's taken advantage of every continuing education opportunity provided by the state's Department of Revenue and has also taught classes on the department's behalf. Ray said he hopes his office's accomplishments provide his constituency with confidence in him when they go to the polls.
"I would hope that the voters are happy and satisfied with the service they've received in the office. I am the most qualified through both experience and education and continuing education through the Department of Revenue," he said. "I am by far the most experienced and knowledgeable candidate; I've provided 20 years of customer service and I'm involved in legislative issues -- I'm chairman of the Tax Commissioners Legislative Committee and also I serve on the ACCG Finance Committee. And I've given many years of involvement to the community as a Rotarian, through my church and through fast-pitch softball coaching and many other agencies, like the library board. I've been an active participant in the community and would ask that the voters give me an opportunity to serve them four more years."