Ed Shouse is a polite, efficient and accessible officeholder who was looking forward to winding up two quiet, scandal-free terms as Knox County Trustee next spring. His tenure stands in marked contrast to that of his two elected predecessors, Mike Lowe and John J. Duncan III, whose names appeared in screaming, above-the-fold headlines for running afoul of the law.
So, when we heard that Shouse is madder than an aggravated hornet over problems with the county’s annual property tax bills, we got curious. Then he put this message up on the county’s web page:
“Due to a software upgrade, there has been a delay in mailing 2021 tax bills. The 2021 tax amounts are also not reflected on this website.
“For 2021 tax information, you can call our main number at 865-215-2305 and we will be happy to assist you.”
This is probably not a matter of grave concern to anybody outside the courthouse, at this point, since two-thirds of the county’s property tax bills are paid by mortgage holders, so most property owners probably haven’t noticed that their tax bills are late. And while city property owners get a one percent discount for paying their taxes in October, the county offers no such carrot, making this delay a no-harm, no foul situation for most.
But it matters a lot to Shouse, who knows that Knox County will have cash flow problems if this problem doesn’t get fixed. He said he’s working on it every single day.
Here’s what happened.
“Three years ago, our external auditors, Pugh CPAs,told us we needed an updated software system for accounts receivable, and basically for all functions within the trustee’s office. So, in conjunction with (Finance Director) Chris Caldwell and the county mayor’s office, we started interviewing for a new software system,” he said.
Their first choice was Tyler Technologies, but there were problems with Tyler’s performance, and Knox County decided to tap eGovernment Solutions, known as eGov, which seemed to have a superior system and services several other county governments, including Nashville Davidson.
“But eGov has not translated into success here – yet,” Shouse said.
Knox County pays eGov more than $244,000 a year for its services.
If the name eGov rings a bell, it is probably because its founder is Mark Padgett, who made an unsuccessful and highly publicized run for mayor of Knoxville against Madeline Rogero in 2011. As everyone who pays attention to local politics is aware, city elections are non-partisan, and although Padgett is the son of former County Clerk Mike Padgett, a Democrat, and got a starter job working for former Gov. Phil Bredesen, he was endorsed by most local Republican officeholders in that election. He touted his business acumen, but was beaten handily by Rogero, a strong Democrat.
“This is Mark Padgett’s company,” said Shouse. “He has it sold to Government Brands, a much larger software entity, but he is still involved, and we deal with eGov. He is the front man on all the negotiations and ran all the demonstrations and shows.”
Meanwhile, Shouse keeps working on finding a fix, but says the programmers cannot find a way to do it within an acceptable margin of error:
“Every day we’ll run a sample of 100 tax statements and eight to ten of them will be incorrect. I can’t mail out 70,000 pieces of mail with 7,000 of them being wrong. That would make us look even more incompetent than we look being five weeks late,” he said.
“It’s cost me a lot of sleepless nights. I’m at the mercy of about 10 programmers, and the bottom line is, they have been working on it a year and a half and have not been able to deliver, and now we have not been able to get the tax bills out.
“On November 4, 2020, we had $20 million more in the bank in tax receivables than we have now. And it will be mid-November before we get the tax statements out. It’s a disaster.”
County Commissioner Larsen Jay has requested that an eGov representative be present at the November 17 Finance Committee meeting.
Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.