07/30/14 — Ward to retire as county 'tax man'

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Ward to retire as county 'tax man'

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 30, 2014 1:46 PM

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David Ward looks over tax rolls in his office at the Wayne County Courthouse. Ward is retiring as the county tax administrator after having worked for nearly 40 years in the tax office.

Wayne County Tax Administrator David Ward, 59, calls himself an "accidental" tax collector.

After all, no child sets out to be the "tax man," said Ward who is retiring after nearly 40 years in the Wayne County Tax Office.

"I found out that they had a job opening that was basically a mapping job," said Ward, a graduate of Goldsboro High School. "We did hand-drawn property tax maps. I applied and got the job. Had you asked me then if I would be here 30 some years later, I probably would have told you that you are crazy.

"When you have elementary kids in class, and you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they want to be a fireman, policeman, astronaut, doctor. Nobody ever raises their hand and says, 'I want to be a tax administrator.'"

Ward's final day is Aug. 1. The tax administrator is appointed by Wayne County commissioners, and until a decision is made, Assistant Tax Administrator Alan Lumpkin will serve in an interim capacity.

"Why retire now?" Ward said. "I don't know that I would have been here as long as I have, but we have a very good staff. I have a very good assistant administrator, collection division manager, other personnel. It is a team effort, and it takes a lot of good folks to do what they are doing for everything to come together."

Ward has seen many changes over the years -- many involving "by hand" work vs. the automated record-keeping and bills he sees today.

"Back then all our real estate cards that we now print out on the computer, all of the maps and everything -- everything was hands-on hard copies," he said. "At that time, we didn't even have a computer to process and run bills."

Ward has also watched the county landscape change, too.

"It is almost amazing to look at a map of different areas now," he said. "When I started, it was fairly easy to get into your car and ride out into the country. I mean you didn't have to go far to actually get out in the rural area.

"Now it is hard to get out in the country as I call it because of subdivisions. Goldsboro has grown, the other municipalities have grown to a certain extent. Then the urbanized areas have subdivisions upon subdivisions that adjoin each other. It is just a different world from when I started that is for sure."

Ward started his career drawing maps and gradually became involved in other areas. Then-Tax Collector Will Sullivan had him work with the appraiser. When Sullivan moved into the county manager's office, Ward was appointed assessor in 1988. He was made the tax administrator in 2001.

Continuing education is an important part of the job. He must meet state requirements to be a tax administrator, and stay abreast of legislative changes to the tax laws.

The jobs has not been without challenges, and a thick skin is definitely a requirement.

"Over the years working out in the field doing different things you get threatened or cussed out," he said. "In most cases, once you can talk to the person and explain what your job is, what you have to do, what the law requires, most of the time they are pretty reasonable and understand that.

"The whole trick, and Alan says this very well, the whole trick is to talk to them so they understand why you are doing what you have to do and why they do what they have to do."

Ward recalls one time when he went out to pick up a new house to measure for the tax books.

The procedure was to go up to the door, knock and see if anybody was home to explain to them what they were doing, he said.

"Fellow came to the door, and I explained who I was and why I was out there," Ward said. "He said, 'Well, let me go get my shotgun.' I said, 'Hold on. If you are going to go get your shotgun, I will go ahead and get in the car and leave.' He said, 'Well, go ahead and do what you need to do.' He closed the door.

"Before I could get finished he had come outside and was talking to me. Before I could leave, he was trying to give me vegetables and fruits out of his garden."

Dogs are always fun, he said.

"When you walk up to a house and see a fence, the first thing you think is dogs," he said. "So you rattle the gate and the fence and make sure that there is nothing there. I am in there measuring along and I look around and here comes a dog. A big Lab comes out. I mean this is a big dog.

"I freeze. Fortunately he stood his distances and barked at me, but I am sitting there thinking, 'How am I going to get out of this yard without this dog eating me up?' The dog did his job, and I eased on out the fence, and we were good."