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Ventura County

Tax Man Gets His Due as He Sweetens Deal

April 11, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The familiar candy bowl was there, filled with treats for the homeowners who lined up outside the Ventura County tax collector's office Wednesday to meet their property tax payment deadline.

But wasn't that a different man holding it?

Yes, it was.

Larry Matheney was on hand to answer questions about tax bills and playfully joust with residents as they carried out a dreaded chore. Following tradition, Matheney passed out Hershey's Kisses to people who had their checks signed and ready to hand over.

Matheney was elected to the treasurer-tax collector's post last month. Although he won't officially take office until Jan. 1, Matheney was filling in for the man who has carried out tax-day banter for the past 15 years.

Harold S. Pittman, the county's tax man since 1988, is ailing from a painful nerve disease and was unable to roam the tax counters. Pittman, 62, dropped by for a short time Wednesday, but decided to leave the taxpayers in Matheney's hands.

"I'm realistic, and the way to get well is do what the doctor says: Go home and get some rest," Pittman said.

Pittman was diagnosed two years ago with myasthenia gravis, a chronic neuromuscular ailment in the same group as multiple sclerosis and lupus. He said the weakening in his muscles was aggravated late last year when he was rear-ended in an auto accident.

He hopes to be well enough to man the tax counter for payments due in December--his last lap before retiring.

"As their elected official, people have a right to meet the person who is collecting taxes from them," he said. "I told Larry it's important to have that personal touch."

Matheney seemed to be learning that lesson fast Wednesday.

He worked the lines cheerfully, printing out copies of tax bills for those who had lost theirs and joking with homeowners as they waited in line. The county will take in an estimated $680 million in property taxes this year, he said. That is up from $628 million last year.

"Check made out?" he asked one woman.

"Oh, yeah," she groaned.

"If I could make it smaller, I would," Matheney said.

Hilda Hines, 62, of Santa Paula handed over $908. She always pays in person, Hines said. Her envelope was addressed, simply, "Harold."

"Harold has taken enough of my money over the years, so I figured I should make the envelope out to him personally," she said.

Hines and her daughter, Ticia Foster, said they appreciate being able to talk to Pittman and Matheney in person.

"It's part of living in a small county," Foster said. "The tax man is on a first-name basis."

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