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Politics: Change in office costs candidate her job
By Jason Lesley
Brian Shult of the Pawleys Island area will take over as Georgetown County auditor Monday, replacing the retiring Linda Mock.
He has already made one decision: Mock’s choice as her successor will not be on his staff.
Kathy Harrelson, who ran as an independent against Shult last November, says she’s being fired.
“Mr. Shult informed me my position with the Georgetown County auditor’s office was being terminated,” Harrelson said. “Due to rumors, he said, he would not be able to trust me. The truth is Mr. Shult chose to fire me because I was his opponent in the race for Georgetown County auditor. I have been employed with the auditor’s office for seven years. I ran a fair and clean race. The democratic process is a beautiful thing, and I participated in it to give the people of Georgetown County a choice. God has and will continue to meet all my needs.”
Shult declined to comment on personnel matters other to say he’s got a “very good group of employees.”
Shult filed for the auditor’s race before Mock, a Democrat, decided not to seek a third term just before the filing deadline. Harrelson had vowed never to run against Mock but decided to run as a petition candidate when flawed filings left Shult running unopposed.
Shult filed correctly and was the only candidate for auditor from either party on the ballot last November. He defeated Harrelson by about 2,000 votes even though Mock had endorsed her for the job.
Shult has waited seven months to take office in order to get in sync with state and county fiscal years that begin July 1. Auditor and treasurer are the only county offices with that delay. The county auditor uses the millage rates set by county council and the property values assigned by the assessor to generate tax notices for the treasurer.
Shult said his biggest challenge will be getting up to speed on state and county regulations. He said Mock has helped him through the process and accompanied him to a statewide meeting of county auditors, treasurers and tax collectors in April. He said he was very impressed with the caliber of people he met there: elected officials as well as state revenue employees.
Shult ran for the $50,000-a-year post as a businessman and said he will look at the operation in terms of revenue and expenses. “It’s dealing with people, personnel issues, dealing with time cards and putting people in the best position to make everything run smoothly,” he said. “That’s the main thing in a governmental agency. I just want to bring consistency to tax collections so everybody pays their fair share and not a penny more.”
Programmers are in the auditor’s office this week to put the finishing touches on software installation. The office in the old county courthouse has undergone renovations too.
Shult said he and his wife, Viki, came to the Pawleys Island area from Vermont after visiting friends they had known in the hotel industry who had moved to Murrells Inlet. Shult said he was glad to leave Vermont’s business climate behind. “I couldn’t take it any more,” he said. “It’s very difficult with the taxes and regs to do business in the Northeast. Once I decided to get out of the business, we decided to get out of there.”
The Shults had lived in Texas and Virginia previously. “My heart has always been in the South,” he said. “We love the area.”
As for the auditor’s job, Shult is looking forward to the challenge. “I’m very excited about it,” he said. “I’d like to improve the system. There’s nothing much I can do with taxes, but I would like to have input even though it’s not in my job description. Basically, I want to be as much help to any and all offices as I can.”
Democrat leaves office after two terms
As auditor of Georgetown County, Linda Mock has felt a sense of obligation every time she has driven across the L.H. Siau Bridge over the Waccamaw River on her way to work.
Siau was Georgetown County auditor for 27 years, and an annual award bearing his name is presented to the outstanding member of the statewide organization of county auditors, treasurers and tax collectors. Edna Earle Freeman followed Siau, and Mock began serving the first of her two terms in 2005.
“Believe you me,” Mock said, “every morning when I come across the L.H. Siau Bridge I ask myself, ‘Am I filling his shoes the way he would be pleased?’ I think so.”
Mock will leave the auditor’s office when Brian Shult takes over July 1. Mock did not seek a third term in office, and Shult was elected last November.
The auditor’s office, Mock says, keeps track of all taxable property and allowable exemptions and generates the annual tax bills for county residents.
“Once a year, we roll all the files from the assessor’s office in,” Mock said, “and that’s where we generate the tax notices. The auditor has to levy the taxes the treasurer collects. The office is more than that. Some of the things that people don’t think of is that we have a lot of credits in this office. You can come in and apply for a Homestead Exemption, get forms for exemptions from the Department of Revenue and exemptions given to veterans. We always try to tell taxpayers if there is a way for them to reduce their taxes. People in tax offices have to pay taxes too. We look at it from the other side as well.”
Mock said the auditor’s job is more complicated than the average person thinks. “It deals with the law,” she said, “human behavior and psychology, figures and calculations. Management deals with forming partnerships and working with others. It’s an all-encompassing job, made lighter by having a good staff. I was blessed when I came on board to have good people in place.”
Mock will be joining her husband, Mike, in Hillsville, Va. shortly after July 4. He bought a farm just over the North Carolina-Virginia state line after retiring as county emergency services director. They will maintain their home in Georgetown County and visit regularly, she said.
Mock says retirement will be a new challenge for her, another change in direction. After graduating from Winyah High School and Winthrop College, she worked in television news in Charlotte, Atlanta and Spartanburg. She sold real estate when she returned to Georgetown County and directed both the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce and Murrells Inlet 2007 before becoming auditor eight years ago.
“I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done,” she said. “I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. You take the skills learned from one profession and you transfer them to another and build on it. It makes you a better person and gives a better product. In the end you are a very diverse, well-rounded person. It sets you on a solid footing.”
During her tenure, Mock said Georgetown County was the first county in the state to reduce the tax rate for boats, and she said motor homes may also qualify for a reduction.
She also sent auditors to schools during the first weeks of classes to check the license plates on cars dropping off students. Those with out-of-state tags got notices to update their registrations.