Auditor’s Runoff, Who is Best Qualified?

By Paul Gable

Lost in the current mudslinging of the SC Senate District 33 runoff election is the runoff for Horry County Auditor, which will also be voted on Tuesday.

Competing are Beth Calhoun, currently the assistant to the Deputy Auditor, and R. A. Johnson, the Deputy Treasurer of Horry County. Johnson’s is a supervisory and leadership position while Calhoun’s is not.

Recently some of the same type of misleading information, though not as dirty as has been put out in the Rankin/Gallman contest, has entered into the Auditor’s race.

Retiring Auditor Lois Eargle endorsed Johnson.  “It is about what I believe is best for the Auditor’s office going forward,” Eargle said. “R.A. better understands the relationships needed between the Assessor’s, Treasurer’s and Auditor’s offices for the county tax and collection system to operate effectively and has participated in many discussions about making those offices work efficiently,” Eargle said.

A recent article in local media had third place finisher Clark Parker endorsing Calhoun with Parker quoted as saying, “I think that Beth is the right person for the job because it is important that the Auditor’s office remains independent.” The story added the following commentary, “The endorsements reflect the different approaches to the auditor’s office: Johnson maintains the position should work in partnership with the treasurer and auditor while Calhoun sees the job as a check on the other positions.”

The Auditor’s Office is not an independent check on the other offices. Parker never did understand the duties of the office even though he was a candidate and it appears neither does Calhoun, even though she has worked in the office for approximately 20 years.

The Auditor’s Office does no auditing. The name, which comes from state law, can be misleading to those not familiar with how the tax system operates.

The Assessor’s Office establishes value to be taxed on real property. The Auditor’s Office establishes value on some non-real property. The Auditor’s Office prepares tax bills based on the information provided by the Assessor’s Office. The Treasurer’s Office collects the taxes established by the Assessor and billed by the Auditor.

Any check and balance in the system comes from the Finance Department, which conducts internal audits and the independent, outside auditing firm contracted each year to audit the county’s books.

It is essential that the Assessor, Auditor and Treasurer work closely together in the county tax collection system and with the Finance Department, which prepares and oversees the county government budget.

To this end, there are monthly tax committee meetings held under the auspices of the Horry County Administration Division. These meetings include representatives from the county Finance Department, the Treasurer’s Office, the Auditor’s Office and the Assessor’s Office. The purpose of the meetings is to keep a monthly check on county revenue.

The meetings are attended by the top people in each department or office. Johnson is a regular attendee of the meetings. There appears to be no record of Calhoun attending any of those meetings, possibly contributing to her misunderstanding of how the office fits into the overall scheme of establishing, billing and collecting county revenue.

The choice for voters Tuesday is for who is most qualified to keep the process flowing and improving as needed.

As Eargle said in her endorsement of Johnson, “It is extremely important that they (the Assessor, Treasurer and Auditor Offices) continue to work together as they have throughout my career.”

Only one candidate appears to understand the importance and that candidate is R. A. Johnson.

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