A Government Office that Cares About Customer Service: Why We’re Open Until 7 PM, Thursday at the Annex

How many government workers does it take to change a light bulb?

  1. Six—one to commission a study, one to analyze compliance with safety and quality standards, one to manage the bulb change project, two to fill out paperwork, and one to screw the light bulb into the water faucet.
  2. Not applicable. I’m sorry, but we are government employees, not miracle workers.
  3. None. Nobody really cares anyway.
  4. None of the above. The government has contracted with a private agency to manage light bulb changes.

If you have ever had to renew your license plates in the state of Missouri, and you have seen the scene with the sloth in Zootopia, you probably do not find this joke to be funny at all. The process of paying personal property taxes, getting an inspection, printing out your insurance card, and traveling to a DMV is enough to push the most patient saint over the edge at times.

Let’s face it… when most people face the task of renewing license plates, they do not start the day in the best of moods.

There is paperwork. There is expense. There is aggravation.

And generally speaking, there are really low expectations of the people that will control every step of the process.  Government workers have been the butt of jokes for as long as jokes–and butts–have existed.

Now throw that mental image out the window, and let me introduce you to a different type of government office. I am your elected Collector, and my staff and I get a kick out of surprising people that come to pay their taxes with a level of service that might actually put a smile on your face.

I get a tremendous amount of joy out of knowing I am facing an uphill battle of negative stereotypes and low expectations when I begin each day. I know that people wake up on “DMV morning,” and drag themselves through the process, expecting only disappointment and aggravation. I and my staff come to work, smiles ready, knowing that we are going to give each taxpayer that comes our way an unexpected respite. We are going to be a blessing in this process. We are going to treat each weary taxpayer with respect and compassion.

We will listen to their stories. We will answer their questions. We will empathize.

Taxes are inevitable, but kindness and a smile are unexpected. We collect the money. We grind the gears of bureaucracy and paperwork. But we do so with a surprising touch of humanity. We know parking on the Liberty square is horrible, but traffic on I-35 can be worse. We know that keeping all of the paperwork in your life straight on top of all the real things you have to do (like kid’s baseball and soccer games, graduations, births, marriages, deaths, sicknesses, and too little money) is a burden. We’ve got this. We do this ridiculous tax stuff all day every day.

So lean on us. We’ll walk you through this. We’ll make sure you have everything you need before you leave our office. We’ll explore every option with you. And we will look at every step of every process we touch every day to see if there is some small way we can make your life easier.

Over the years, we’ve put out chairs during our busy season, served bottles of water when the line was 2 hours long, provided coloring pages for kids that have to wait while mom fills out endless paperwork, allowed everyone to make partial payments, combined city bills with county bills so that one check takes care of everything, announced important deadlines in the paper and on Facebook, created informational videos and a user friendly website, and most recently…

We decided to pick one night a week to stay open a couple hours later, so that people who work 8-5 for a living could catch a break and get their questions answered in person.

I am grateful every day to have the opportunity to intersect people’s lives at a low point. It is a blessing to me to know that the simplest of efforts on my part can make a real difference in someone’s difficult day. Clay County taxpayers really are some of the most resilient, diverse, creative, and genuinely nice people in the world. So, stop by Thursday night. Pull up a chair, and let’s talk prepayments, or property values, or one of the other exciting topics I swim in every day. To you, these topics are confusing and scary because they cost you money. To me, they are my opportunity to throw you a life line and take a burden off your shoulders.

We’ll keep the coffee warm for you.