There are 100 counties in North Carolina but only one of them – Guilford County – has the 2018 Outstanding Tax Collector of the Year.
The North Carolina Tax Collectors’ Association (NCTCA), a professional organization constituted of tax department directors and other tax officials representing counties and municipalities across the state, awarded the honor to Guilford County Tax Director Ben Chavis, who received the accolade during a banquet at the NCTCA’s annual three-day conference held this year at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro.
The Outstanding Tax Collector of the Year award is presented annually to the tax official in North Carolina who’s brought the most leadership and innovation to the office and has provided outstanding performance in the tax collecting profession. The last time a Guilford County tax official won the award was 27 years ago when former Tax Director Roger Cotten was selected to receive it in 1991. Cotten went on to become Guilford County’s manager.
In recent years, the Guilford County Tax Department has seen very high collection rates; currently, it’s collecting over 99 percent of taxes owed. Having a high collection rate is important because it means the county has more money to fund programs and services each year without a need for increasing the property tax rate. When tax collection rates are low, as they are in some counties, less revenue than is due is coming in and the system isn’t as fair because a larger percentage of property owners aren’t paying their share of government costs.
The Guilford County Tax Department has implemented several innovative programs over the last several years including advanced aerial photography and computerized analysis of those photos to determine, for one thing, if a property owner has built an addition to a building or a house but has “forgotten” to inform the county’s Tax Department of that fact. Last year, the Guilford County Tax Department also introduced a host of web tools that allow taxpayers to better understand how their property values were arrived at in the 2017 revaluation of all county property, and there are other tools that allow owners to compare their property values to the appraised values of comparable nearby properties.
Chavis said he had no idea he was going to win the award, but he added that he was extremely honored when the surprise was revealed during the banquet at Koury Convention Center. He said his family was informed ahead of time and they attended the banquet.
“It’s a pretty neat award,” said the tax director who has served in that position for Guilford County since 2009.
Assistant Guilford County Tax Director Jim Roland, who nominated Chavis for the honor, said he did so because of Chavis’ “outstanding work” in Guilford County. He said Chavis is very deserving of the award.
“We’re very proud of Ben,” Roland said this week.
According to Roland, Chavis has brought a “visionary philosophy” to the office with changes that include the development of an online foreclosure website and another website that provides citizens with easy access to tax billing and assessment information. The department also made the move from an outdated mainframe tax system to a web-based system for billing, collections and assessment,
Other improvements to the tax collection system in Guilford County, Roland said, include the development of an online and over-the-counter payment method that accepts credit cards and eChecks and the creation of an in-house legal team to handle mass foreclosures. For years, Guilford County has been drowning in home foreclosures and many of those properties end up in the hands of the Tax Department.
Chavis, an ordained Church of God minister, also serves as the chaplain for the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and he delivers the prayer – with quite a bit of passion – every other Thursday at the start of commissioners meetings. It may be a coincidence, but if was about the same time Chavis started delivering prayers that the Board of Commissioners began making wise decisions rather than unwise ones – though perhaps credit should go to the shift to a Republican-majority board rather than to divine intervention summoned by the tax director’s pleas.
Chavis grew up in the Maxton, North Carolina, near Lumberton, and graduated from Richmond County Community College with an associate degree in computer science. In 1988, he graduated Pembroke University with a bachelor of science degree in accounting.
He was hired by the Randolph County Tax Department in 1988 as an assistant to the tax director and became the tax director of that county in 1997.
Over the years, he has worked as a youth pastor and a prison minister as well as with a van ministry program and a nursing home in that capacity.
In his bio read at the NCTCA banquet, the speaker said of Chavis, “It’s been his life-long goal to build a church which encourages spiritual growth, is Word-based and promotes strong family relationships while ministering to the community as a whole.”
Chavis helps out in the community as well. He’s involved with the Church under the Bridge Ministry in Greensboro and is getting ready to do mission work in Cuba and Haiti this year. Chavis also teaches Bible study groups outside of his work with the church.
Chavis has been married 26 years to his wife, Leslie, and the couple has three children. Chavis and his wife have completed foster care classes and are hoping for the opportunity to provide positive guidance for other children as well.
The county tax director also enjoys playing basketball, and when Guilford County formed a team and played against the City of Greensboro’s team three years ago and two years ago, Chavis contributed fairly well to the county’s effort for a man of his years and height.