Tax Commissioner won't seek re-election

  • Lumpkin County Tax Commissioner Rachel Pruitt
    Lumpkin County Tax Commissioner Rachel Pruitt

Lumpkin County Tax Commissioner Rachel Pruitt’s mind is already made up. Her name will not appear on next year’s ballot.
“I know in my heart it’s time to turn the reigns over,” she said.
Pruitt spent the last 30 years in the tax and tag office—the last 10 as Commissioner. The job can “get to you,” she said.
Pruitt hit the ground running when she took office in 2009, clearing the books of back taxes and collecting what was owed.
“From day one, Rachel’s goal was to collect all the taxes due to the city, school, and county and to clean up old, outstanding accounts. She has worked tirelessly to accomplish that goal,” said Lumpkin’s Division Director of Finance and Support Services Allison Martin.
“When I took office the economy had just tanked and the county needed that money. I hit the pavement hard to get collections up,” Pruitt said.
Land taxes—both for homes and raw land, commercial personal property taxes and mobile homes that had not purchased decals and were in arrears were encouraged to set up payment plans if the taxes could  not be paid in full.
A payment plan was already in place, but Pruitt made sure people knew about it. She sent out letters and  made phone calls; made sure to mention it at public meetings; and in the pages of The Nugget.  
Pruitt said she is proud of having successfully helped landowners clear up their tax troubles and avoid possible catastrophic consequences.
“I’ll miss that feeling I get when I’ve helped somebody make a resolution, that feeling that I’ve done good for somebody,” she said.
When neither letters or phone calls worked, Pruitt made visits.
A Nugget reporter accompanied the tax commissioner—who is an officer of the court and is empowered  to carry a gun—upon one such visit to a commercial establishment several years behind in its taxes.
Pruitt did not strap on a firearm, but she did wear her badge and was accompanied by a Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office deputy. When the store employee was told to shut off the gas pumps, lock  the doors and call their boss, they quickly complied. Pruitt had a check in-hand before leaving the store.
The state allows several methods of collection, and Pruitt has used them all, including confiscating personal property from businesses. Using inmate labor, Pruitt seized equipment from a now defunct bike-shop for back taxes.
“Once we made the seizure,” she said, “they paid their taxes.”
One out-of-business pizza restaurant simply closed up and left town, leaving a tax bill and the restaurant’s equipment behind. That property was confiscated and sold, paying off the entire tax bill and collecting $92.53 over what was owed.
“They have five years to claim the money before it goes to the state’s unclaimed taxes,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt also cleaned up years worth of records, removing a mountain of  non-collectable tax debt from the county’s books. Much of this was abandoned property—old, dilapidated mobile homes with no value for the most part.
The collection rate now amounts to 99 percent, with only a few accounts being more than two years delinquent.
“My goal is to keep collection rates high and to have just two years of delinquent taxes on the books when I leave office,” Pruitt said.
Martin is confident the tax office will be left in good shape when Pruitt leaves, she said.
To Lumpkin County School System’s Chief Financial Officer Shannon Christian, Pruitt is “a champion in this community. Tax commissioner is often a thankless job—moreover a vitally important job. Ms. Pruitt understands and values how important her role is to the children of this great county. Without her efforts, students and teachers in our classrooms would be without the tools necessary to be the pace-setters they have proven themselves to be in the state and region."
Martin agrees.
“Rachel has always communicated with me and isn’t afraid to sit down and work through issues. We’ve worked together well through the years and that has made both of our jobs easier,” she said.
One thing Pruitt wishes she had accomplished during her tenure was “getting the BOC to approve a timber tax ordinance. I see the county losing a lot of money on these big tracts of land that get logged by not having one,” she said.
Pruitt’s husband, Randy, who serves as Lumpkin County’s magistrate judge, has not yet made up his mind if he will retire this year. The two are the only married couple serving as elected officials at the same time in the county, and maybe the only ones to ever do so, Rachel said.
“He has his job and I have mine and we try not to take our jobs home with us—even though we are both on duty 24/7,” she said.
Whether Randy retires or not, Rachel is ready, she said.
“I’ve worked all my life. I worked at Crisson Gold Mine from the age of 13 and all through high school. I never had the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom and housewife, and I look forward to being there for my grandchildren,” Pruitt said.
She also intends to continue to volunteer with the community’s nonprofits. She served on the CASA board for several years and has been a regular volunteer with Dancing with North Georgia Stars since its inception.
“I hope I have represented Lumpkin County well and when people look back they can say I’ve done a good job and haven’t embarrassed them. I’ve tried to be a good steward of the county’s money and represent them well at home or at conferences,” Pruitt said.