Thursday, March 22, 2007
Johnson ending 24 years of service in county office
By SUE WATSON
When he began as a part-time field appraiser under former Marshall County tax assessor/collector Bobby Fant, Ronnie Johnson said he would have never dreamed he would go on to become an elected official.
Johnson was elected in 2003 to the office of tax assessor.
“I started in 1983, the year we started reappraisals that were implemented in 1984,” Johnson said. “The state mandated the reappraisals in every county in the late 1970s. Before that, property was appraised on a person’s word of what they paid for it. Counties didn’t have any maps and parcel numbers.”
The state flew aerial photography in 1980, he said, then the counties had to add all property lines to the maps - which were over 300 maps at the time. The maps were ready with property lines drawn on the maps in 1983, he said.
“A lot of field work had to be done to verify where property lines were,” Johnson said. “Probably one-half the old deeds were wrong because the owners had deeded off part of a property. That’s why it took so long to get the maps accurate.
“Then we had to take the external dimensions of all structures on each parcel of land. There were eight field people out measuring structures and getting it all entered into the computer. It took us from September until the latter part of July 1984. We were late with the rolls that year.”
The tax assessor’s and collector’s office was not split until the 2003 elections, but could have been split in 1984, Johnson said.
“The county was big enough to split the offices - there were enough parcels and assessed valuations to do it,” he said.
Johnson and tax collector Betty Byrd said before Fant retired, workers did not want the offices split because they would have a different boss. They pushed Fant to run another term, but he didn’t, they said.
But the tax offices had always acted as two separate offices - assessor and collector, Johnson said.
“He (Fant) put me in charge of appraisals in 1986,” Johnson said.
Byrd continued, “Even though we were all Mr. Fant’s staff, you were either an assessor or a collector. I had never even pulled a tape measure.”
“I’ve never sold a car tag in my life,” Johnson added.
There were numerous factors influencing Johnson’s decision to not run for reelection.
“It’s just that I’m getting older and it needs to be a younger person, a person with more ideas. Everything is going computer and I’m left out,” he said.
Another big factor is just having some time to do what he likes best, spending time with his eight grandchildren, his cows, in his garden, and doing some fishing and hunting.
“I have my farm and I want to spend time on it with my grandchildren, and instead of having to meet a schedule, I can do what I want to do and still be able to eat.”
Frustration at state mandates that do not provide additional salaries to add staff is another reason Johnson is ready to quit.
“A lot of it is not practical and the county does not have the money and personnel to implement some of these things,” Johnson said. “It’s just making it hard.”
Byrd said she is going to miss having Johnson around after 25 years.
“He’s breaking up my team (by retiring) and I don’t like it a bit,” Byrd quipped. “It has been nice knowing somebody has your back.”
“She’s always fussed about me getting education pay, and they don’t have anything like that - a school for tax collectors,” Johnson said. “The legislation for that died in committee the second year in a row.”
Byrd said there is a lot of teamwork involved.
“And he’s breaking up my family,” she said.
“I’m not that far (away), anyway,” Johnson replied.
“We’re like a family,” Byrd continued. “We spend more time together than with our own family. It’s not just co-workers. It goes a lot deeper than that.”
Johnson elaborated on Byrd’s statements.
“The assessed value and the amount of taxes collected on that value have to balance at the end of the year,” he said. “I always accuse them of doing something that made it not balance.
“You know exactly how you are supposed to settle to each city, the school districts, and the county. Your mobile home tax, personal property tax, real property, public service commission taxes, real rolls, have to balance within a few pennies.
“It’s just to insure you have all these different taxing districts out there and you have to insure you haven’t made a mistake somewhere.”
Johnson was born in Mt. Pleasant and his family moved several times all within the boundaries of Marshall County.
Between age 7 and 12, Johnson lived in Potts Camp. His farm is just a few hundred yards from where he grew up.
He graduated from Holly Springs High School in 1966.
Johnson’s parents were the late Odell and Callie Johnson. He was fourth born in a family of eight - which include Frances Westmoreland, Mary Ann Day, Evelyn Watkins, Christine Martin, Linda Fisher, Paul Johnson and Debbie Culver.
Johnson has three children – Henry, who works as a mechanic with the county, Richard, a tool and die worker for Whirlpool, and Tanya Snow, a teacher at Potts Camp.
He said he is grateful for the opportunity to work for the county.
“I’d just like to tell the people of the county, I’ve enjoyed working for them,” he said. “I hope I’ve treated them all fairly over the years and I appreciate their electing me as tax assessor.
“I also want to thank my staff. I couldn’t have done the job without a good staff.”
Johnson worked part-time before age 18 at the Chevrolet place.
“I was quitting when I got 18 and was going to Wurlitzer,” he said. “I went out to John Kloha and he said, ‘you come out here to make an application?’ I said, ‘No, I came to work. I quit my job to work here.’ ”
Johnson was drafted into the Army on August 7, 1967, spent three years in military service, then came back to Wurlitzer, where he was supervisor.
He said helping Fant with the reappraisals of property was not going to provide him enough money to live on.
“Don’t depend on me, because I can’t live on this kind of money, I said.”
Byrd said she started at the tax office in 1982, taking the job until she decided on what she wanted to do in life.
“Neither of us ever dreamed we would have these jobs,” she said. “Mr. Fant is the reason we stayed. He encouraged us to be the best we could be.”
Johnson said he was prodded.
“Mr. Fant prodded me to go to school and get my certified general real estate license. I attended three weeks of school in 1984 and became a certified real estate appraiser.”
The state mandates that each tax appraisal office have two certified appraisers.
“I have four of them back there,” he said.
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