Money is serious business for the county, and no one is more serious about it than county treasurer Maria Walls, who assumed elected office July 1 after spending four years as deputy treasurer.
“I want people to feel comfortable that they have someone representing them here every day,” said Walls, who lives in Bluffton with her family. “It’s not just me. I have a staff (24 full time) that represents them every day.”
Most recently, Walls and her staff oversaw the county’s annual Delinquent Tax Sale Oct. 5. Last year’s sale collected $22 million, including back tax sales. The year before that, $40 million. At press time, results were not available from this year’s sale.
Just days before the sale, Walls was named “Office Holder of the Year” by one of the world’s leading sources of technology information for businesses and professionals.
More than 1,000 entries were received worldwide from Thomas Reuters’ government customers for the public sector award. The publicly traded company cited Walls’s implementation of several technological initiatives that improved the efficiency and accuracy of tax processes for the county, as well as her planning, leadership and service. The company also cited her department’s transition from paper processes to digital and paperless.
“I’m honored to receive this award, and look forward to providing new and innovative ways to provide excellent service to the taxpayers of Beaufort County,” Walls said.
Walls has been working on improving the office since she began working there.
After the embezzlement scandal that rocked the office in 2011 before Doug Henderson became treasurer through a grassroots petition campaign, there was much work to do to restore public faith and trust in the department. He appointed Walls as his deputy treasurer.
“We needed to bring credibility back to this office,” she said. The first move she and her boss made was to install an internal control procedure that made all departments and staffers accountable for every monetary transaction … processed, documented and verified, with checks and balances in place.
She also reduced internal expenditures by sending confirmation receipts online instead of by mail, saving $60,000 last year. Overall, she reduced department expenditures by 24 percent during her tenure.
The first official action Walls took when assuming office in July was to update her department’s website to make it more viewer-friendly for the public.
Walls said she will roll out new agenda items in the future. Among them are to:
- Increase tax payment options
- Reorganize the Bluffton office for public convenience and set up payment kiosks
- Change the electronic check processing procedure and reduce credit card convenience fees assessed to the county by credit lenders.
Walls’ mantra over the past four years – and now – is simple: “We learn, we implement and we get it done.”
Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer living in Bluffton.