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The Checks Are Usually in the Mail : Government: Harold S. Pittman enjoys being the people’s choice to hold Ventura County’s giant money bag. He will be unopposed in election.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This time every year, thousands of people in Ventura County write out huge checks to one man--Harold S. Pittman.

Most will never meet him, but instead send off their hard-earned money via the U. S. Postal Service. A few residents will stop by his office just to make sure that he won’t run off with the booty.

Pittman, 55, just smiles and says: “Just keep those cards and letters coming.”

Such is the life of the county’s treasurer-tax collector. More than 200,000 pieces of mail--the second portion of the 1993-94 property tax bills--will cross Pittman’s desk at the county Government Center by the April 10 tax deadline.

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State rules require that the checks be made out to Pittman, since he is responsible for disbursing the money to the county government, schools and special districts.

But the requirement raises a question that Pittman hears constantly: Just who is this guy?

“I’m the elected collection agent for all the entities which collect money,” Pittman said--in one breath. “State code says I’m personally responsible for the funds.”

Translation: He’s the people’s choice to hold Ventura County’s giant money bag, a task he takes very seriously.

An even-tempered man with a Midwestern drawl, Pittman is a treasurer-tax collector who stands at the collections counter to personally accept the property tax payments.

He has held the position for six years and, unlike most of the other county officials, he will be unopposed in the June election.

“Either people thought I was doing such a good job that they wouldn’t run against me or no one wanted my job,” Pittman said. “Either way, it’s a nice present.”

Pittman says he is eager to serve another four years.

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“I like dealing with finances, and I like dealing with people,” he said. “It’s big business. There are no boring times here.”

In the past six years, Pittman watched property values drop and tax delinquency rates increase. Despite the recession, he has sought to make the most of the county’s property taxes--which will total $488 million this year.

Under Pittman’s direction, his department has upgraded its computer system and purchased two new check-processing machines, nicknamed Thelma and Louise.

The machines, which cost a combined $263,000, can endorse and make microfilm copies of each check, as well as develop a tally that is loaded into the county’s database.

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The increased automation helps the county rush the property tax funds to the bank while reducing the number of workers needed to process the checks. For each $1 million the county deposits, it earns several hundred dollars per day in interest.

“We cut our processing costs by 50%,” said John McKinney, Pittman’s assistant. “There’s virtually no overtime, yet we close the collection period now exactly on schedule.”

The improvements have won Pittman accolades from the County Board of Supervisors. Even Supervisor John K. Flynn, who is usually critical of his fellow county officials, says he has no complaints about Pittman’s performance.

“Hal is an excellent administrator,” Flynn said. “He really minds the shop.”

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Pittman says his favorite part of the job is hobnobbing with taxpayers. He spends several hours a day at the tax collection counter answering questions and accepting checks.

“So you’re Harold S. Pittman,” said Annie Sproul of Oxnard, who stopped by Pittman’s office recently to pay her bill. “I’ve been writing checks to you for a long time.”

Mike Lad, also of Oxnard, handed over his payment and told Pittman: “You are a famous man. I come here twice a year and you are always standing right there, collecting the money.”

Pittman smiled and nodded.

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“I have the name recognition,” Pittman said. “You don’t make people happy by collecting taxes. But you can be appreciative and helpful. They recognize someone has to do it.”

Yet most taxpayers know little more about Pittman than his name.

He’s quick to provide a rundown on his background: He grew up in Oklahoma, where he earned an MBA from Oklahoma State University. Later, he joined the Navy and spent several years in Washington working on budgets at the Pentagon.

In 1979, Pittman and his wife, Bobbie, decided to move to Camarillo. Pittman went to work as the auditor-controller for the Navy at Port Hueneme. After retiring from the armed forces in 1982, Pittman joined the county as a supervising auditor.

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He worked his way through the ranks and was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to fill an unexpired term as treasurer-tax collector in 1988. He ran unopposed in 1990.

He has no children, but four dogs.

“He’s the kind of county employee I can call at quarter-till-five and he’s always in the office,” Supervisor Vicky Howard said. “He’s dedicated, and that says something about him.”

He’s also brave enough to list his number in the phone book, just in case someone needs him after-hours. Occasionally, he receives a strange phone call--which he figures comes with the territory.

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In December, an irate man telephoned Pittman on a weekend, desperate for information.

“His wife, who kept the checkbook, had died,” Pittman said. “He found the check register and wanted to know why there was such a large check written out to me.”

The man peppered Pittman with questions. Who are you? Why did you take the money?

“He was embarrassed when he found out it was for the taxes.”

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