As Shelby County Trustee, David Lenoir is the banker for the county.
Career Day at Peabody Elementary School with David Lenoir
David Lenoir thought it was “comical” when a friend suggested that he campaign for the Shelby County Trustee position in 2010.
However, he began to ponder the suggestion seriously after realizing that the position involved banking and accounting — two areas he was well established in.
“When I was approached to run for office it was the furthest thing in my mind at the time,” he says. “I wasn’t that politically active, I didn’t work on campaigns. I wasn’t an activist by any stretch of imagination. But when I looked into the position and saw that it was the banker for the county, I got that immediately.”
After putting in countless hours of footwork, Lenoir, a Shelby County native, was elected to serve a four-year term as county trustee in August 2010.
The primary obligation of the job involves collecting and managing the money of taxpayers and utilizing them properly throughout the county. Considering Lenoir holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Alabama and has worked in accounting and financial services for more than 20 years through firms such as First Mercantile Trust Company, National Bank of Commerce, and Wachovia Securities, the duties haven’t been too much for him to juggle.
“With me wanting to get more involved with the community, being the banker for Shelby County was a great fit,” Lenoir says. “I had a good career professionally and had a desire to get more involved into the community. I love numbers and money and accounting and banking.”
Though he earned an accounting degree at Alabama, it was football that took him there. He received a football scholarship from the school on the way to becoming a Freshman All-SEC Defensive End and a three-year letterman.
Brought up in what he considers “an upper-middle-class household in East Memphis,” Lenoir found himself wanting to help others less fortunate than he was. Before becoming county trustee, he did so as a volunteer football coach for two years at Manassas High School, running the defense for coach Bill Courtney (though this was prior to the making of the film Undefeated.) He credits his time there as one of his motivations to become county trustee and also help educate those in low-income communities who are unaware of basic budgeting and overall financial education and literacy.
“When you look at the Shelby County community and see that 25 percent of our population live in poverty, it’s extremely bothersome,” Lenoir, a husband and father of two sons, says. “And particularly for someone who’s had a successful professional career and is involved in the world of banking and finance, what can I do to help move the dial and change poverty in Shelby County? You throw all that in a blender and say, The banker for Shelby County could be a great platform to address the financial condition of Shelby County, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
As trustee, Lenoir has addressed the county’s financial condition by assisting in the implementation of Project H.O.M.E., which addresses the foreclosure crisis with financial literacy workshops; property tax relief and assistance for low-income seniors, disabled taxpayers, and veterans; and helping individuals set up no-cost or low-cost bank accounts.
Through the monthly gatherings, delinquent taxpayers are taught about budgeting and provided the opportunity to prepare a spending plan to pay off their overdue property taxes, which hinders their property from being sold.
“Unfortunately, a lot of times, there’s been some life event — a divorce, a medical bill, someone has lost their job — something that has happened that has put them in the situation where they can’t pay their taxes,” Lenoir says. “I don’t think the long-term fix for our delinquent taxpayers is sending them a letter saying, ‘You’re delinquent,’ and making harassing phone calls saying, ‘You need to pay, you need to pay.’
“We have to deal with the underlying problem: basic budgeting,” Lenoir continues. “A lot of people [have] a paycheck but they don’t know how to budget and account for that money, so they go spend more money than they have. They find themselves in debt and, next thing you know, they’ve dug a hole that they can’t dig out of. With the workshops, the county partners with different banks to implement the strategies [to help].”
Aside from helping those in debt, Lenoir has also pushed to consolidate tax collection between Memphis and Shelby County.
“It would be a win-win,” Lenoir says. “The city would save money and we have the capacity to do it. It would be taxpayer convenience. Right now, we’re in the process of mailing out county bills, and our bills go to city of Memphis residents. The city of Memphis is mailing its bill as well with city taxes. To me and others, it makes more sense to send residents one bill with their city and county taxes.”
Lenoir cites comments from Memphis mayor A C Wharton, who has said that consolidating tax collection would save the city about a half-million dollars a year.
As county trustee, Lenoir not only deals with individual taxpayers but the business community as well.
He says the annual property tax collection has fallen from $729 million in 2010 to $718 million in 2012. Approximately $53 million of this is personalty taxes, or business taxes, which are collected from establishments in Shelby County by the trustee office.
The personalty tax involves businesses filling out a schedule that places a value on all tangible personal property such as furnishings, office machines, computers, telephones, vehicles, and other things utilized by workers. The businesses pay a tax on the listed equipment.
The Payment-in-Lieu-of-Tax (PILOT) program, developed to bring more businesses into the city, is another thing that allows establishments to interact with the trustee office. The PILOT program reduces the property taxes of select businesses in order to create new jobs and investment.
Lenoir said the county is also in the process of creating small business roundtables that would allow the trustee’s office to reach out to smaller establishments, consult with them, and determine what can be done to assist them in areas of need.
“I’m taking the opportunity when meeting with business leaders one-on-one or in groups to mention my desire and need to hear from them and soliciting their thoughts on how my office can be helpful,” Lenoir says.