by Audrey Thomasson
WHITE STONE—George E. “Sonny” Thomas says he has no long range plans on how he plans to spend retirement after serving as Lancaster County’s Commissioner of the Revenue. But after 21 years of assessing real estate and property taxes, preceded by many years in public service, his immediate plan is to relax at home with his wife, Joan, and read a few books.
Thomas was first elected in 1995, edging out two opponents for the Constitutional office. He’s run unopposed every four years since.
Perhaps his success with voters can be attributed to his respect for taxpayers.
“The Commissioner of the Revenue is as close to the tax paying public as anybody. It was my goal to make sure the taxpayers continued to have the first class service provided by my predecessor,” said Thomas. “So many people in elected positions do not think of taxpayers as customers. But they are your customers like in any business. You always have to treat them with respect.”
Thomas entered the office at a time when systems were transitioning from paper to technology based. The state tasks county revenue departments with keeping accurate track of real estate on January 1, processing state income tax returns and tracking all personal property tax.
“We used to enter information from 5,000 handwritten tax returns and process them for the state,” he said. “I had to hire two or three part-time people who entered the information and typed a report. In 1998, new computer systems spit the reports out. Now, with more people making electronic filings, we only have about 2,000 returns to process.”
The department of four people also handles all the assessments for Irvington and Kilmarnock real estate taxes.
Citizens can thank Thomas for elimination of the tax decals that used to be posted on the windshield of vehicles. He was one of the first tax commissioners in Virginia to take steps to eliminate the decals.
“We would have lines of people that stretched all the way through the building for days waiting to purchase their decal,” said Thomas. “People complained about having to wait for hours.”
He noted that the decals allowed law enforcement to see who was current on paying their personal property tax. “Now, if you haven’t paid the tax, you can’t conduct any business with DMV. But we don’t have that kind of taxpayer here,” he was quick to add, noting the near perfect tax collection record in Lancaster.
When Thomas first decided to enter politics, he was able to count on name recognition because of his years of public service, much like his father. The elder George Thomas was a founding member of the Kilmarnock/Lancaster Volunteer Rescue Squad.
“My father was one of 16 charter members,” said Thomas. “Those were primitive days when you didn’t have a whole lot of regulations,” he said.
They took a 1957 Pontiac station wagon and built it into an ambulance by taking out the seats and bolting in a platform for the stretcher, he explained. Doctors called for the ambulance and regularly rode with patients to the hospital.
“They had less than 100 calls a year. When I was with them, it was 700 calls a year,” said Thomas.
He began his public service by volunteering with the Mathews fire department. When he moved back to Lancaster, he took advantage of his military medic training and became a charter member of the Upper Lancaster Volunteer Rescue Squad in Lively, joining the Kilmarnock squad when he moved closer to Kilmarnock.
He was also involved in the Upper Lancaster Ruritan Club for 15 years and a charter president of the Northern Neck Rotary.
He owned and operated Thomas Hardware in Lively when the village had a couple of manufacturing plants and other business operations.
His retirement as commissioner was effective December 31. The department’s chief deputy, Marilon Savoy, will be the acting commissioner until November, when the last two years on the term will be up for election.
“Marilon has been working in the department for 38 years and is knowledgeable, experienced and well qualified,” said Thomas.