The Oktibbeha County tax assessor/collector office will see its first leadership change in 20 years come January.
Pat Kight, who has served as tax assessor/collector since 1992 will not seek re-election this year. The 73-year-old intends to end her political career to focus on her health. She expressed unending gratitude to the citizens for entrusting her with overseeing their tax collections, but says it”s time to let someone else handle the money.
Four candidates, two from within Kight”s office, are campaigning to replace her.
Oktibbeha County”s tax assessor/collector is paid a base salary of $56,000 each year (although Kight makes $79,500 due to several additional certifications) to oversee several deputy clerks whose responsibilities include issuing car tags and titles, appraising land and property values, mapping new developments, facilitating the sale of land, collecting taxes on commercial and residential property and keeping records on all of the above.
Debbie Carrithers, 56, is one of two tax assessor/collector deputy clerks seeking the top spot in the office. She has served under Kight for 15 years.
The Choctaw County native has lived in Oktibbeha County since 1976 and says helping people is the driving motivation behind her campaign.
“I love what I do, and I like to have the opportunity to help people,” said Carrithers. “I”ve gotten to know the community and individual people and their needs. I help them with problems, whether with car tags or land.”
Carrithers said her 15 years in the tax assessor/collector office has familiarized her with all the relevant laws and code sections. She believes that knowledge is unmatched by any candidate and will ensure a smooth transition.
Her intention is to make herself accessible at all times, including after business hours, to assist citizens.
Carrithers is a Democrat.
Allen Morgan, 56, spent 29 years with the Mississippi Tax Commission as a revenue officer and law enforcement agent before retiring in 2006 and currently buys and sells timberland through his forestry company.
During his career, Morgan, who has lived in Oktibbeha County since being transferred here in 1992, has collected taxes across the state, worked in all nine tax districts and managed the Columbus district office when the district manager was away.
“I”ve personally collected millions of dollars of delinquent taxes,” he said.
Morgan hopes to computerize the tax office to allow citizens to pay property taxes and renew car tags online, a service he says 13 counties already offer.
“This will shorten the line at the courthouse,” he said.
Morgan is a Republican.
JoHelen “Joey” Walker
JoHelen “Joey” Walker, 38, has worked for the past year as a deputy clerk under Kight. Before that, she spent six years working in the Lowndes tax assessor/collector office and another six years at Trustmark Bank and Cadence Bank. The Starkville High School graduate studied mapping and appraisal at Mississippi State University, banking at Mississippi University for Women and business administration at East Mississippi Community College.
“I know every aspect of being tax assessor, from the books all the way to the fields,” said Walker. “If there”s a problem with the books, if someone feels as though they didn”t get appraised properly, I know how to go out and look at it and be objective.”
Walker said her office would be defined by an open-door policy and accessibility to citizens.
Walker is a Democrat.
Velisia “Lisa” Wynn
Velisia “Lisa” Wynn, 43, is looking to make a career change. The literacy coach has spent the last two years working with the Institute of Reading Development at MSU helping first, second and third graders learn to read. The Starkville High School graduate holds a bachelor”s degree in English from MSU and a master”s in English from MUW.
“I”ve always said if I remained a resident of Starkville I would run for a political office. Two years ago I started to look at what tax assessor entails and decided if Mrs. Kight was not coming back I would pursue it,” she said. “Of course, I”ve worked in the teaching field, which has nothing to do with taxes, but it”s important for the tax assessor to be educated.”
Over the course of her campaign, Wynn has heard citizens complain of long lines at the tax assessor office and wants to change the way people handle their tax business. She hopes to open the office two Saturdays a month for the benefit of citizens who can”t come in during the week, as well as automating as many features as possible online.
She points out that the State Tax Commission will train whoever is elected regardless of their experience.
Wynn is a Democrat.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.