August 5, 2013 By Scott Amundson
Keeping and maintaining accurate tax records is an inherently complex and time-consuming process, but doing it effectively can reap rich rewards. In Greenville County, S.C., Assessor Debbie Adkins implemented a solution that allowed her to recover almost $3 million in revenue.
In an interview with Government Technology, Chip Cooke, CEO of Tax Management Associates (TMA), explained that his company started working with the Greenville County Assessor three years ago to review their homestead exemption parcels. Homestead exemptions entitle property owners to a tax deduction if the property in question is their primary residence, and meets certain other qualifications.
In Greenville County, there were more than 100,000 records to review, which Cooke's team completed by leveraging a partnership with LexisNexis.
"We manually verify that the homestead exemptions filed with the county are indeed accurate and following the state statutes and local guidelines to make sure that the property tax reduction in value is not being given in error," Cooke said.
Adkins connected with TMA following an industry conference, noting that working with the company could help the county clean up existing records, as well as position them to more easily maintain records in the future. "It would've taken years for our current staff to have done this job in-house," Adkins said.
Cooke explained that his company completed the large and meticulous task by using data-matching tools from LexisNexis, followed by personal follow-up in cases where homestead filings seemed problematic. "We did personal outreach to taxpayers where we thought there might be some problem with the filing and worked to rectify that with additional information or advised the taxpayer that they may need to reclassify their homestead," he said.
That phase of the project, now complete, spanned less than 18 months. In the future, TMA hopes to continue the relationship with Greenville County, to ensure future homestead filings are completed accurately.
Scott Straub, market planner for Government Collections and Property at LexisNexis, believes his company's technology can help government in many ways, helping to combat many different types of fraud, including tax and benefit fraud. According to Straub, the company's technology can also help in situations like Detroit's, arming them with the necessary information to collect on old debts. "They can actually use our technology to resolve all those identities to a more contactable identity to help collect those debts in the future," he said.
Although the company has been around since 1979, TMA has only been doing homestead exemption audits since 2005. "We entered the partnership with LexisNexis in 2010 and started to use their data as the backbone of our investigative strength," said Cooke.
LexisNexis' database aggregates a massive amount of public records information, publicly available data and commercial data, resulting in nearly 600 million unique identities, according to Straub. "We run our advanced linking technology in the background to create distinct identities out of all this messy non-structured data."
Cooke credits LexisNexis with drastically increasing the capabilities of his company, explaining that an early project for the Michigan Department of the Treasury required TMA to examine records from roughly 1,200 tax jurisdictions. "We did a lot of heavy lifting aggregating our own data sources," Cooke said. The partnership with LexisNexis allowed TMA to benefit from a broader view. "Whereas we could only see within the borders of Michigan and had no real view outside of that, LexisNexis had data from across the country. Being able to tell if someone had a homestead in Michigan as well as another state that grants the same property tax reduction was important and helped us do our job a little easier," he added.