Written by Bob Weir
Even though everyone knows that paying taxes is an essential part of living in organized society, the term “Tax Collector” sends a bit of a chill up one’s spine.
Sure, we recognize that we must commit some of our income for education, police and fire protection, road construction and a myriad of other services that make it possible to live and raise our families in safe and comfortable communities. Every responsible person knows that those essential services must be paid for. Nevertheless, when that dreaded tax bill arrives in the mail, inquisitive eyes scan the numbers rapidly in search of a satisfied outcome that is, hopefully, not more onerous than the prior year.
Through cooperation agreements with the municipalities, school districts and with most special districts within the county, the Tax Office consolidates the collection of property taxes. Most property owners in the county receive just one tax statement for all property taxes and can make a single payment for all taxes each year.
Given the many agencies submitting budgets each year, the administration of tax revenue to numerous entities throughout the county is a herculean task. A major player in the management of that task is the Denton County Tax Assessor/Collector. Michelle French was elected to that position in 2012 and has announced that she’s running for reelection next year.
One of the concerns most people have about taxes is the fear that they may be paying more than their fair share. That’s why it’s vital to have knowledge of all levels of the tax office, but especially at the top. Ms. French worked her way up to the top.
“In a way it was easy to take over the position because I had experience. I actually started my career with Denton County 30 years ago this year,” said French. “I started as a deputy clerk for the tax office. It takes time to really understand the workings of the industry because there is so much to learn, and I spent my entire career here.”
What does a tax assessor/collector do? “Primarily we are responsible for motor vehicle, as well as property related tax functions. For motor vehicles we are an agent of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Part of our responsibility is to renew registrations for motor vehicles, trailers, motorcycles, etc., and we also transfer titles. Whenever a vehicle is purchased, or sold, they come to us to do it. That’s one leg of our organization. The other leg is property tax and that’s what a lot of people think about more than anything else when they go to the tax assessor/collector.”
Ms. French said her office consolidates data collection, meaning that it not only collects for Denton County, but contracts with collection services in many other municipalities. Hence, in addition to the county, her office also collects for 84 other jurisdictions.
As head of the agency she’s required to prepare a budget. “Last year it was $4.2 million, out of which $711,000 is our true operating budget. The rest is for salaries and mandated expenses. The operating expenses include property tax statements, postage, printers, computer supplies, maintenance agreements, etc,” said French.
Her office employs 62 people, covering five stations across the county; Denton, Carrollton, Lewisville, Colony and Crossroads. “The main office is in Denton where much of our recording is done. Our financial administration is housed there as well. Several functions that are not done in our other stations are done in Denton. Then we have our subs that are placed across the county to serve that section of the population.”
She travels to these other areas to visit with staff members to see how things are going and to discuss different issues with them. “We have two department managers; one over property tax and the other over motor vehicles. Our department manager for motor vehicles will go out and do a lot of auditing and standardization and making sure things are going well.”
The size of the building in Lewisville is determined by the Commissioners Court. “On Civic Circle, in Lewisville, there is a new building going up that will be the new government annex which will eventually house our office on that campus and be a bit larger than what we have and be more serviceable.”
French said the appraisal districts operate separately from the tax office. “The way the property tax system works in Texas, and I personally think it’s a beautiful way; you have the appraisal districts, and tax assessors. The appraisal districts are responsible for appraising property and granting exemptions, while we’re responsible for distributing the tax statements.”
As for her campaign, Ms. French said she doesn’t have an opponent so far, but is more than prepared to defend her success in office. “I had an opponent when I first ran and it was interesting because it was someone that worked in the Denton appraisal district. My opponent knew the ins and outs of the industry, much as I do. We had a very civil race; it was not ugly. It had some spirited moments, but without any offensive campaign tactics. I and my team made a decision early on that no matter what happened we were going to run a principled race and only stick to the facts. It was important to me to run a clean campaign. That is who I am.”
In my opinion, Michelle French is a great image for the office because her experience, integrity and attention to detail should assure every taxpayer that they’re going to receive a fair assessment and courteous treatment from anyone working in her administration. I truly believe that’s who she is!