He needed 40 percent to avoid a run-off, and came within two dozen votes of that threshold. He ended the initial primary night with 39.84 percent of the vote (with 4,406), to paralegal Evona Kilpatrick’s 38.86 percent (4,298) and 21.29 percent (2,355) for Shannon Baldwin. At one point, two votes separated the top two at 3,255-3,253. Then King re-widened his margin, ending 108 ahead.
Coming so close to 40 percent is “proof that every vote counts,” he said. He focuses forward on the second primary, meeting more “interesting people” and of course on his long-time job.
King has served as Henderson County’s delinquent tax assessor, a mid-level administrative post, for the last eight years. He has worked 18 years with county taxes, first in assessment then collections.
He is familiar with the deeds office’s land records, by “utilizing tools” in researching deeds, plats and vital records. He discovers history and current status of a parcel, to “plot” it before the county puts a lien on it for unpaid tax. He checks for a deed’s provisions or changes in a property’s size or ownership such as from a trust or will, estate-driven subdivision, consolidation of sub-lots or adjacent lots from sales or gifts. He also looks in the Clerk of Superior Court office for other liens, such as via a foreclosure or legal judgment.
King supervises a staff of six — similar in size to the deed staff. “My staff steps to the plate, and gets functions done.” He has a master’s degree in public administration, from Western Carolina University. He would continue cross-training current registrar Nedra Moles initiated, making it easier to fill in for absent co-workers. King considers himself an effective delegator who also chips in, handling customers or other tasks. “I’ll run the front counter myself.”
He points to his experience in efficient operations as the county regularly collects at least 97 percent of tax owed, and his frugal “performance-based” budgeting as a “good steward of the people’s money.” King deposits the over $60 million in collected tax money in the bank, for the county. He keeps records, and makes reports. He reports to Tax Collector Stan Duncan.
The deeds office budget is self-sustaining, via fees.
W. Lee King, 42, is a ninth generation Henderson County native. His wife Cheree is a Stepp. Their families are part of early county history. King is an astute genealogist. He researched his family to Samuel King, who was with Gen. George Washington in the famed Valley Forge winter campaign and later settled in Mills River.
“The Register of Deeds office is caretaker of our history,” King said, with collective data on individuals, families and land. “We have a rich history in Henderson County. It needs to be told.” The deeds office includes birth, marriage and death certificates, assumed (i.e. “stage”) names and military discharges that chronicle one’s life as well as real estate transactions that reflect history of land parcels.
Such data is online dating back to 2005. King suggests going back to 1950, midpoint of the last century. He said that should cover the vast majority of deed research for land up for sale, division or consolidation. Eventually as budget allows, he wants records to go as far back as possible and even to 1838 when Henderson County was founded.
Organizing and entering data online takes time. King noted it likely costs less to pay existing staff overtime than to add another full staff position for such tasks, unless the load is excessive. Outsourcing is another option. He would conduct a “methodical and practical” review of procedures and computer software programs, looking to update to enhance efficiency and “customer service.”
He wants wider access and quicker turn-around for death certificate copies. He retrieved one online from Mecklenburg County right away, to assist a local taxpayer.
King is adamant online land deed data should not include a buyer or seller’s Social Security numbers, date of birth and other “sensitive” personal information. Newer deeds do not have this as a security precaution, but older land deeds do. He would see that documents are reviewed to remove/black out (“redact”) such data, to deter potential identity theft. Further, he said, such personal data would not be sold to telemarketers.
He is described as professional, thorough and accurate. Yet he said he also welcomes helpful change, plans long-term, and takes “initiatives, to think outside the box.” An example is a variety of county property tax payment plans, not only for those late but to prevent late penalties. Thus some with limited income opt for advance “pre-pay” installments, to chip away at their obligation. “The earlier you get to us (after getting the tax bill in late summer), the more flexible a plan we can give you.”
If elected register, he would ask county commissioners to pass an ordinance to require that delinquent property taxes are paid on a property before its new deed may be recorded. This way, the pending purchaser of the land is not “stuck” with a hidden tax bill for that tract. Counties are empowered to set such a condition, thanks to a new state law.
King graduated from East Henderson High School in 1989. He plays curling, and is an avid college basketball fan. Lee and Cheree King married 18 years ago. Their daughters are Nikki, 12, and Mackenzie, 10.
Lee proposed on a cold December day to Cheree, at Flat Rock Playhouse by the wishing well and bell. The bell is rung to signal patrons the play is about to start, or resume after intermission. Now Lee King’s wish is that the bell of public service tolls for him, to oversee plenty of good deeds.
For more, check KING4DEEDS.com.