By Dave Rogers

For The Record

Somebody’s garden is about to get a lot of attention.

Lynda Gunstream, Orange County tax assessor-collector for the past 20 years and a clerk in the tax office for 15 years before that, is retiring this week after 36 years working for the county.

“I love to garden, so I’ll be working in my flower beds,” she said. “I’ll probably get my house in order. I’ve got no big travel plans because my husband is still working.”

Gunstream announced early last year she wouldn’t run for re-election in 2016.

Karen Fisher, supervising clerk at the county’s Vidor tax office, won the March primary, drew no opponent in the general election and will be sworn into office in a New Year’s Day ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday at 128th District Courtroom in the Orange County Courthouse.

Gunstream has been a fixture in the tax office since 1981, working in a department that now includes 19 people, three of them in the Vidor tax office.

“We used to hand-write all our receipts,” she recalled. “It’s tough to remember all the changes that have been made, but definitely the computer has made jobs a lot easier for us.”

One standout memory for Gunstream revolved around the way the tax office staff once was split between two distinct specialties. One group was concerned with keeping records and collecting payments for property taxes, another group’s prime job was issuing license plates and renewal stickers.

“I guess the hardest thing I remember we had to do,” Gunstream said, “was when we merged the two parts of the staff and everybody cross-trained all the clerks to do all the duties – taxes and licenses.

“There’s a lot of information that people have to know. It’s not as easy as everybody thinks.”

Gunstream said she thought she learned a lot in the 15 years she worked in the office for Tax Assessor-Collector Rosemary Slaton.

Slaton drew an opponent for the 1980 general election but passed away in the months prior to that vote.

“The party nominated me to replace her in running,” Gunstream said.

“I was pretty green at that time, politically. But the party helped me out, and I won that election. I never had an opponent after that.”

The tax assessor-collector does not set the property values or tax rates. Those are the jobs of the county’s appraisal district and the taxing entities, such as the county, cities and school districts.

The Orange County tax office works with 20 of those entities.

Not only does the tax office keep records of every property in the county, it has to know all the various entities’ tax exemptions that apply to those properties.

“One of my main jobs is I calculate the effective tax rate for all entities in July, when the certified values come to me from the appraisal district,” she said.

The effective tax rate is a property tax rate that would give the entity the same amount of revenue it had the previous fiscal year. It’s a function of overall property values rising and falling.

“I give the effective tax rates to the entities so they have an idea what tax rate they need to collect what they need to operate,” Gunstream said.

“Once they set the rates, I apply them to the properties and come up with the taxes.”

She prints and mails tax notices in October, then disperses and keeps track of the funds as they come in.

“We wear a lot of hats in this office,” she said. “We also do boats, remember. My ladies stay busy with cars and boats.”

Needless to say, Gunstream is happy to see Fisher bring a wealth of tax office knowledge to the job.

“This job would be difficult if you don’t have experience in this office,” Gunstream said. “I’m not saying it can’t be done. But it’s easier if you have the knowledge behind you.

“Karen Fisher will do fine.”