Smart Voter
San Mateo County, CA June 2, 1998 Primary

What does the Tax Collector-Treasurer do in San Mateo County

By Lee Buffington

Candidate for Treasurer/Tax Collector

This information is provided by the candidate
Our job is to plan the money flow to satisfy the financial needs of the county, the 26 school districts, cities and special districts and invest the rest to make a good return
The San Mateo County Tax Collector prepares, prints, zip sorts and mails about 360,000 tax bills a year. During the peak tax times the office receives about 1000 telephone calls a day,and collects a little over $650 million in property taxes at a cost of $4.96 per tax bill.

Once the money is collected it is processed through our internal "bank" along with the other receipts that come in for the county, school districts and special districts. All together there is over $2 billion that is processed through the internal bank in a twelve month period. In addition the three ladies who run the bank also issue business licenses.

Then we prepare the receipts for delivery to the bank and post our records. We do this with two machines called remittance processors. These machines read the micr encoding on the tax bill and/or the check and then endorse and encode the check, record the amount received, photograph both sides of the check, and photograph the tax bill if it is a tax payment. The machine then sort the checks by the bank on which the check is issued. Using these machines has cut our check processing costs in more than half. In addition, for each of the last twelve years we have been able to get the tax money in the bank faster than the preceeding year. The records in the Tax Office are up to date the morning after the bill hits the internal "bank".

Once the money is in the bank it becomes part of the county pooled accounts. Just like your budget at home, our first priority is to pay the bills. Our cash flow issues are a little different than yours, our income varies from a high of $385 million a month to a low of about $93 million a month. On the other hand, expenditures average about $170 million a month (high $224 million, low $117 million). To give you an idea of the magnitude of the transactions, we have four payrolls a month (county, schools and retirement) when they all hit on the same day the bill is $48 million.

We also act as Trustee and Paying Agent on 30 General Obligation Bonds that have been issued by the schools and special districts. We perform the same functions on the ten or twelve Tax Anticipation Notes that are issued in the county each year.

Our job is to plan the money flow to satisfy the financial needs of the county, the 26 school districts, cities and special districts and invest the rest to make a good return.

The San Mateo County Tax Collector-Treasurer's office is generally recognized as one of the leaders in the state of California. In addition, we have been visited by two delegations from China, two delegations from Tiawan, One delegation from Australia, and one delegation from the United Kingdom in the last twelve months.

Why are we getting all of this attention? We now have the third lowest property tax delinquency rate in the state. The cashiering system we helped to develop is now being used in Los Angeles, San Diego and several other counties. Our automated voice response system provides tax information 24 hours a day. We have a web page that explains the tax system. I was asked to speak to the California Debt and Investment Advisory Board meeting in Long Beach about our Cash Flow modeling work. In addition, our investment earnings have been outstanding, for the first nine months of this fiscal year our earnings rate is 6.07%. We have been able to achieve these results in a declining interest rate market where the interest rate on two and three year treasury bills is running about 5.5%. We are saving each one of those school districts that issued a General Obligation bond about $2500 per year in trusee fees. The public agencies in this county have shown their confidence in our investment program through their continued support, and for the first time in the history of San Mateo County the County Pool has a balance in excess of $ 1 Billion. All of these accomplishments have been achieved with 25% fewer people than the office employed ten years ago.

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