Shelby County Assessor of Property Melvin Burgess will open his first satellite office in 2019 to better inform and educate county residents about how best to handle their property tax issues.
The first Assessor’s Community Resource Center will be located at 157 Poplar Ave., Burgess said, adding that he was going out to look at the space chosen on the day of the interview.
The former county commissioner sat down recently with The New Tri-State Defender to discuss this and other changes he has made since taking office two months ago.
“I want the office to be accessible to everyone,” he said. “I want them (citizens) to understand what we do.”
The Shelby County Commission determines the tax rate, but Burgess said people often think his office does.
“Really, my job, for the most part, is to assess every piece of property,” he said. “That includes commercial and industrial as well as residential and rural land.”
He said people don’t always think their land is assessed properly.
“If you feel it’s that way, you can come here and appeal it and if they don’t get it right, we can go to the state Board of Equalization. You have other avenues,” he said.
Maria Wooten, spokeswoman for Burgess, said Burgess also wants to make the assessor’s office more active in reaching out to the community.
“He wants to be involved in the community to tell them about resources they didn’t even know were available to them, especially for our elderly generation, our disabled generation,” she said.
Wooten said the Poplar Avenue satellite office “will be part of other satellite offices in the future so we can provide resources to everyone who owns property in Shelby County.”
Burgess said he has plans to contact other county offices, such as the Trustee’s Office, that may want to collaborate in disseminating information through his satellite offices.
Every municipality has different needs, Burgess said.
“The needs for a (satellite) office in Collierville will not be the same as for an office in North Memphis or South Memphis. That’s why we’re putting this one out there as a pilot. Then we’re going to get with some of the county commissioners and say, ‘what else do you want to see in that office besides an assessor’s office.”
Burgess said he would like to provide better customer service and, as an administrator, better service to the 158 employees he leads. One of the things he wants to change is the call center, to make it more along the lines of the one in Nashville or along the lines of the one used by Memphis Light Gas and Water.
In Nashville, citizens can go to a computer in a call center and view all of the information recorded about their property in one place. Not so in Memphis, and Burgess wants to change that.
“It’s all about accessibility,” he said.
Also, Burgess said he wants to help stimulate mobility among his employees as they make a career out of working for the assessor’s office.
”…When we came aboard, we found people who had been in the same position for 29 and 30 years, where there was no upward mobility,” he said.
A career ladder program was created and developed in-house by Javier Bailey, chief administrative officer for the assessor’s office, and is being managed in-house by the assessor’s leadership team.
Burgess said one of the hardest challenges is keeping good assessors.
“It’s hard to keep the people in that group because of what we pay,” he said, detailing that an assessor can make more money in the private sector than by working for the county.
“When you come here and work in this office we want to make sure you are growing and going in the direction where you want to go,” Burgess said. “I’m trying to teach some young folks, how can I grow you to maybe start your own assessor company or to go wherever you want to go in Shelby County. …That’s how you grow employees.”
Burgess said he is an administrator and as such is always looking to improve and to upgrade things wherever possible.
“It’s going to run, to operate, but I’m bringing it to the 21st Century where it needs to be,” Burgess said.
Among assessors responsible for large cities, the Shelby County Assessor’s Office is closely followed by assessors’ offices throughout country seeking pointers on how to handle certain problems, said Burgess.
“We lead the way.”