Friends, co-workers and taxpayers turned out Sept. 25 to recognize retiring Haines Borough staffer Sue Nelson.
Nelson worked most recently as property tax clerk but also handled sales taxes in her first years, and has served as interim borough clerk and assistant to the assessor. She was a “bright spot of color” in the government office, said borough Mayor Stephanie Scott.
Nelson started at the borough in 1978, when the municipality had only one, full-time office staffer, a clerk-administrator. Scott held that job at the time and pleaded for extra help.
“It was a very small governmental unit. We all did everything. Sue was our first expansion” hired to handle property and sales taxes, Scott said. “It really was the olden days.”
At the time, all borough correspondence was filed on a ring, where leaders could come in and flip through it. “That tells you something about the volume of the business we had,” Scott said. “But everything was out in the open. We were committed to transparency in government.”
Scott and Nelson devised the borough’s current sales tax reporting form. “We used to hand-write the tax roll. It was all written in long hand. It was pretty amazing,” Nelson said. “It was cumbersome, but we didn’t have to hire IT people. We just had our ledger books. You never had any glitches.”
Office computers came about 10 years later and Nelson designed the current system for tracking properties, assessments and taxes.
Scott said: “We made it our business to make paying taxes as pleasant an experience as possible. Sue was invariably gracious. Sue’s desk was under the window. She was the first person people would see. She’s a reliable worker and so willing to engage with people, and never offering judgment or criticism. It was such a nice face for government.”
Nelson said she liked being a public servant and helping people. “When people walk through the door of a government office, they have an issue. And taxes are something people aren’t excited about paying. I like to think I was able to help people out, and guide them through the process.”
Nelson estimated she worked under about 12 borough clerks, 10 mayors and about 10 assessors, including contractors. “There’s too many to list and too many to name.”
Memorable projects, she said, included four major land sales, including outcry auctions, executed by borough staffers. “Except for a surveyor, we did it ourselves, in the office. Those were busy, busy years.”
At Nelson’s Sept. 25 retirement party, she thanked her co-workers and remembered some of the many mayors she’s worked for, including Bob Henderson, a farmer who thought nothing of giving Nelson time off for her other job – working on a fishing boat.
“Bob thought of fishing as a kind of harvesting, like farming. It was a good way for me to be able to fish with my husband,” Nelson said.
The best thing about her borough job, and what she’ll miss most, is the perspective it affords of the community and its goings-on, Nelson said. “I got to meet everybody in town. If new people came, I’d meet them when they registered to vote. If people were buying land, they were in looking at the maps. I liked that. I’m going to miss that. The community flows through that office.”