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West out as Haywood tax collector

Haywood County's new tax collector will be Sebastian Cothran. Haywood County's new tax collector will be Sebastian Cothran. Donated photo

The state of North Carolina’s only elected tax collector and one of Haywood County's few elected Democrats will lose his seat after being defeated by his Republican challenger.

Greg West, who's served in the role for four years, came up short with 47.46% of the vote, against 52.54% for Canton resident Sebastian Cothran.

"I'd like to thank the voters for putting their faith in me. I'm happy that I won, I'm happy to serve and just want to give a a big thank you to Haywood County for voting me in there," Cothran said. "I was a little nervous going in there but it all worked out." 

A Democrat, West defeated embattled then-collector Mike Matthews, a Republican, in 2018 by 1,070 votes out of 24,686 ballots cast — good for a 4.3 percentage point margin of victory.

Since then, West has increased his tax collection rate to 98.35%, higher than both Matthews and Matthews’ predecessor, Democrat David Francis. Collection rate is important, because per statute counties must apply the previous year’s collection rate to the estimated total tax levy for the next year when constructing their budgets.

If the rate is low, commissioners have to set their expectations accordingly, and may have to come out of fund balance or raise taxes and fees to make up any deficits. A difference of 1% is equivalent to about $460,000.

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Cothran, just 21 years of age, serves as treasurer of the Young Republicans club at UNC-Asheville, where he’s about to graduate as a double major in accounting and political science.

Despite his lack of professional experience and relatively young age, Cothran was exceptionally versed in the responsibilities and obligations of the tax collector position, telling The Smoky Mountain News in September that “There’s always room for improvement until you get to 100% [collection rate] so even a one-hundredth of a percent means thousands of dollars for the county.”

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