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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Meet Lindsey Stepp, NH's new chief tax officer

By MIKE COTE
January 20. 2018 4:41PM
Lindsey Stepp, the new commissioner of the state Department of Revenue Administration, is seen here in the lobby of the DRA at the state office complex in Concord on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



Lindsey Stepp really likes taxes.

That sounds like heresy in the Live Free or Die state. But Stepp likes working with taxes, not creating them.

Last month, Stepp, 35, was confirmed by the Exeutive Council as the new commissioner of the Department of Revenue Administration - the first woman to hold that post since the agency was established in 1973. Stepp is responsible for collecting more than $1 billion in annual revenue; ensuring equity in the $3.5 billion of property taxes collected by 234 municipalities; and directing a staff of more than 130 people.

The Massachusetts native, whose tenure at the department has included two years as assistant commissioner, says improving technology, communication and customer service top her goals. The department already has won about half of the technology battle, but the other half will take some time - and a lot of money.

"Over the past few years the department has been pretty successful in modernizing what you could call our front-end system, which is the intake of data or forms from taxpayers," Stepp said Thursday.

The department uses a system that scans paper forms submitted by taxpayers, using optical recognition technology to pull the data. It also uses the Efile electronic submission system in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service.

"You go to TurboxTax, you say 'file my taxes,' and it's all done electronically," Stepp said. "We kind of piggybacked on the IRS and also receive data that way. So our front-end system is pretty modern."

The back-end system? Not so much.

"Our current primary database that houses the back-end data is about 30 years old, and it's kind of held together by Velcro and duct tape with a number of other systems. We don't even have all our data in one place," Stepp said. "It's a green-screen system."

During the last legislative session, Gov. Chris Sununu and the Legislature approved spending more than $30 million to create a new system that will consolidate the data.

"The system will be web-based, very user friendly, easy on the eyes. And we'll also have the ability for a taxpayer portal," Stepp said. "Currently today if you made a payment with the department you wouldn't be able to know if we received that payment. On this new system, with the web portal, you will be able to log into the system like your bank account and see that the payment is there and that you have filed your return."

Tax professionals will be able to access the system on behalf of clients.

"They'll be able to verify that you did in fact make a payment. It will really make our jobs much easier. It will increase our collaboration with taxpayers and hopefully make things a lot easier for them as well," Stepp said.

The state's request for proposals for the upgrade included that it be compliant with new IRS security requirements, known as Publication 1075, to protect taxpayer data.

"All the vendors from which we received responses are all compliant with Pub 1075, and they have numerous measures in place to ensure that the data is secure. That is something we obviously take very serious," Stepp said. "We are audited by the IRS every two years with respect to ensuring that the data is secure."

Stepp's first job out of college was working as a tax consultant at Ernst & Young, which she said provided a great foundation for her career, teaching her how to work with teams on projects.

"It gave me the opportunity to get involved in a variety of businesses and learn a lot about what businesses do on a daily basis," she said. "I had clients that ranged from medical manufacturers, clothing manufacturers, semiconductor manufacturers. I also had service companies."

Through that experience she learned that she really enjoys tax work.

"I think it's a rare breed of people that can say that. But I do. And so it kind of gave me the opportunity to say, 'All right I like taxes. I like the work that's involved with this. Let me see what other opportunities are out there.' That's how I initially ended up coming to the DRA."

She left the department to work for Plymouth State University while pregnant with her second child.

"I wanted to be a little bit closer to home but left with very mixed emotions. And so when the assistant commissioner position opened up I thought, this is an opportunity for me to get back to the DRA and back to working for the state," said Stepp, who was hired for the post by then-Commissioner John Beardsmore.

Stepp said she didn't know she was the first woman to be appointed to run the department until Grace Ames, a publicist from Manchester-based Montagne Communications doing work for the state, discovered that fact while doing some research.

"I've never much thought about whether or not I'm male or female in any position so on the one hand it kind of surprised me. It's obviously a very great thing," Stepp said. "This is a day and age where women can do anything that men can. It's kind of cool to be the first one. And a lot of people have come up to me internally and said, 'Hey, way to go. That's really awesome.' But most people didn't even realize that that was the case."

Stepp and her husband, Morgan, live in Holderness with their son, Harper, 5, and daughter, Louisa, 3, and two golden doodles. She enjoys skiing with her family in the winter and spending time in the summer at Squam Lake, which is where she met her husband.

New recruits to the department can expect to encounter some professionals who are a bit geeky about taxes.

"It's a common thing around here. I met with a new employee yesterday, and I go, 'Oh, we're really glad you're here. We hope you like it, and I hope you find you love taxes. A lot of us here do,'" Stepp said. "And he kind of looked at me a little funny. And I was like, 'No, really, we love taxes!'"

Contact Business Editor Mike Cote at 206-7724 or mcote@unionleader.com.


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