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Wednesday, June 27, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard
Elfant updates Commissioners Court on Tax Office troubles following arrests
The Travis County Tax Office says that the first of four satellite offices that closed down after a fraud investigation netted seven arrests last month won’t reopen until late July at the earliest.
Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant delivered that news along with a collection of other updates to the Commissioners Court on Tuesday afternoon.
He explained that he hopes to have the Pflugerville satellite office opened by July 25.
“Before they can reopen, we’re required to conduct an inventory of our license plates and other materials at all the satellite offices. We have to reinstall computers. We have to check the cameras to make sure they’re okay,” Elfant explained. Additionally, new supervisors will have to be assigned, and other processes, such as cash handling, will have to be reformed.
All four offices were closed after the Department of Public Safety arrested seven people, four of them Tax Office employees, in May after a months-long investigation focused on the Tax Office’s Motor Vehicle Division.
Elfant said he expects to reopen the Oak Hill satellite office soon after the Pflugerville location. He left open the possibility that the other two – one on McKinney Falls Parkway and one on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard – might never reopen.
“We know that having these satellite offices as small as they are has been good for the customers, but problematic at best from a management point of view,” Elfant said. “We’ve not been able to have enough people at the satellite offices to handle the customers to begin with and haven’t had the oversight to work with the employees, check transactions and handle cash-counting issues.”
He suggested the possibility of consolidating employees outside of the main office on Airport Boulevard into two new satellite offices in both northern and southern sections of the county.
“And that’s a policy decision that we’re going to have to work through,” Elfant said, underscoring how that potential solution won’t necessarily come to fruition in the short term.
With the satellite offices closed, the main office has seen a significant uptick in customer volume, resulting in longer lines. Elfant said that the Tax Office is engaged in public outreach efforts to remind citizens that they can also conduct certain Tax Office-related business at HEB grocery stores or online.
In addition to temporarily shuttering the satellite office operations, Elfant also placed 19 Tax Office employees on administrative leave when he learned of the investigation. Of those, nine have been cleared to return to work.
Elfant also praised the head of the Motor Vehicle Division, Monica Blackwell, who previously spent 30 years with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
“There are probably not too many more people in the state more knowledgeable and experienced about motor vehicle issues, titling and registration than Monica is, and we’re so fortunate to have her with us, especially under these difficult circumstances,” Elfant said.
During a conversation with reporters after Elfant’s briefing, Blackwell put the investigation into a broader context.
“This is not the first one, and it won’t be the last one. This is something that has been going on for the 30 years that I was within the department,” she said. “It’s the lure of easy money.”
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