It's about people, not money

Sunday, January 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:37 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

At first glance, Pat Lensmeyer’s office might look like that of any other county official. There are volumes of Missouri statutes and a certificate on the wall that says Lensmeyer has been collector since 1995.

But a more careful look reveals small details that make her office unique. Above her desk hangs a poster of Columbia College, where she graduated in the early 1990s. Another wall features modern drawings of the American flag. There are pictures of her family and a drawing one of her grandchildren gave her. Then there’s a certificate honoring Lensmeyer and her husband, Bernie, as members of the citizens committee for the USS Columbia submarine.

During tax collections from November through January, Lensmeyer works more than 10 hours every day.

“It’s also nights, weekends,” she said. “At this position, you cannot have Thanks-giving, Hanukkah or even Christmas.”

And on New Year’s Eve, when others are making toasts or kissing at midnight, Lensmeyer is emptying a drop box full of tax payments.“I don’t want to ask somebody else to do that,” she said.

Lensmeyer, 63, said she prefers being county collector to her previous work as a collector for the Missouri Department of Revenue, where she said she had little interaction with the public.

“Here, I answer the phone. I talk to people,” she said. “At the state level, I was too far away from the citizens.”

Lensmeyer has a staff of six that doubles during collection season. The office was on track to collect an estimated $120 million in property taxes for 2006.

Donna Anderson, chief deputy collector, has worked in the position for 26 years. She called Lensmeyer “very modern in her thinking” and noted that Lensmeyer has focused on improving technology in the office. She made it possible, for example, for county residents to pay their taxes online or over the phone.


Pictured here in 1994, Pat Lensmeyer has been collector since 1995. Even though her staff doubles from November through January during tax collection season, Lensmeyer still works more than 10 hours a day. (Missourian file photo)

“She does everything she can do to make it easier for taxpayers,” Anderson said.

New technology has also made collection and distribution of tax payments more efficient.

“When I took office, it took days for several employees to close out a month’s collection and to distribute that money,” Lensmeyer said. Now everything is automatic, so it only takes a few hours for one person.

Lensmeyer tries to make service to taxpayers a priority. One phone call in

August 1995 drove home the impact her office can have. The caller, who couldn’t pay her taxes, wanted to know whether she had to leave her house immediately because it was going to be seized. Lensmeyer met with the woman to learn about her problems. She couldn’t stop the property seizure, but the incident inspired procedural changes.

“I did what I had to do, but if I hadn’t taken this phone call, I would have a different approach,” she said. Now, Lensmeyer sends a total of six notices to warn delinquent taxpayers.

“It gives us more opportunities to find solutions,” she said. “Some counties don’t even send letters to delinquent taxpayers.”

Lensmeyer said determination and perseverance are keys to her success. “If you really want something, you will find a way to do it.”

A look at her past shows it. Lensmeyer attended seven universities over 26 years before earning a degree in individual studies at Columbia College. She worked and cared for her family throughout that time.

Lensmeyer, with voter support, can remain collector as long as she wants.

“I will recognize when it’s time to say it’s enough,” she said. “When I don’t have the same vigor and enthusiasm, I will stop.”

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