Tax Collector can Affect County Budget
Come the November 8th election who will become the 46th President of the United States is not the only thing that will be decided. Closer to home, other taxing issues are on the ballot. One of them is the office of the Tax Collector. [Today’s post will be a little long, but it requires some upfront education on how the Tax Collector operates. – apologies from the mgmt.] The Tax Collector is not a sexy position. Throughout history and fiction, the Tax Collector was a hated man. This might have started with the Roman Empire where the Tax Collector collected the taxes that the huge empire needed to function. There were income taxes, sales taxes, taxes on crops, wine, and the production of olive oil. The Tax Collector would send Rome their due and keep whatever extra he could collect for himself. Backed by government force of Roman soldiers, the position of Tax Collector was a lucrative gig. Today most people give it little thought, and as always, when people do not take notice of their government bad things happen. Unless given good reason to make a change, the incumbent usually wins re-election. Consider this your NOTICE OF GOOD REASON to vote for Bobby Hopkins over the incumbent.
Background (AKA the Boring Bits)
In Florida, each county has a Tax Collector’s Office. Aside from the collection and proper distribution of your taxes the tax office also serves as the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. They issue driver’s licenses and registrations for your car and motorcycle, boat and watercraft, trailer, mobile home, etc. The Tax Collector receives a service fee out of the fees charged to the consumer. Aside from the DMV services, the Tax Collector charges 2% of the taxes you see on your tax bill. If your tax bill is $2000 the Tax Collector will take $40 for his budget and distribute the balance of $1960 to the taxing authorities. Doesn’t seem like much per household but it adds up. This is where most of the Tax Collector’s budget comes from. Traditionally, the Tax Collector returns 1% of his 2% collection fee back to the county for their general fund. From the other 1% and service fees the Tax Collector runs the office. The office will have the expenses that any agency would incur; personnel costs (salaries and benefits), operating expenses (rent, office supplies, phone, and utilities), and capital outlays (computers, desks, chairs, improvements to the property). Anything left over after all expenses are paid is refunded to the county. So, the less the Tax Collector spends, the more money he can return to the county. The more money the county gets, the less the county must tax you. So in the end, the efficiency and fiscal responsibility of the Tax Collector will have an impact on your pocket.
Yes, Sir. Yes, Sir. Two Bags Full.
According to the Tax Collector’s website the approved budget for 2015-2016 is $8,279,000. http://www.tcslc.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/TST-LUCIE-Approved-Budget-15-16-revised.pdf Unfortunately, the current Tax Collector, Chris Craft, only shows a summary sheet for his budget on his website. There is no way to dig into the numbers. There are no budgets from prior years. So it is difficult for the average citizen to know if Craft’s budget is the same, going down, moderately increasing, or exploding. Chris Craft is a public servant working off the public’s money, and we need to know where our money is going. Chris Craft’s lack of transparency should be troubling to all county residents.
The Dirty Truth
So, what is the average citizen to do? If you are reading this, just continue to read, before casting your ballot for Tax Collector. Chris Craft’s budget has exploded and will continue to explode unless YOU put a stop to it. In fact, the Tax Collector’s budget has increased almost $3 million dollars in the past three years. That is nearly double of what it was. It is money that the county cannot use to cover its $7 million annual deficit. Craft’s travel expenses increased 400%. Where exactly is Craft going and what is Craft doing when Craft gets there that costs four times more than the former Tax Collector? There are lots of questions, with no answers. Except to say Craft has his hand in the cookie jar, OUR cookie jar.
This is what happens when you place someone with zero business experience in charge of something that must be run like a business.
There’s More Always More
Back in July 2015 (Taxman Cometh) we told you how St Lucie County purchased a 4-acre plot of land on Tradition Parkway for $590,000. We told you that the land was for a new Tax Collector’s office. We told you that the prime commercial real estate would no longer be generating tax revenue for the county. A short way down the block is a commercial property about 1.468 acres assessed at $1,251,987 with a combined millage of 25.8801 where they pay $33,596 in ad valorem taxes and $7,292 in non-ad valorem taxes. Doing some calculations, the ad valorem taxes on the Tax Collector’s property would be $88,287 per year if sold for private commercial use. The non-ad valorem would be close to $27,000. That is money not going to the county, the sheriff, the schools, the City of Port St Lucie, etc. That is money that must be made up somewhere else (somewhere else means YOU!). Because This Matters.net may seem overly absorbed with taxes, but when you get hit over the head year after year, it is time to take every dollar lost very seriously.
On-Line is Fun, Fast, and Easy
When a business opens a second, or a third location it is because the owner of the company looks to increase revenue. Each additional location has operational costs as defined above. Each additional brick and mortar location must increase revenue. Otherwise, the company will lose money. It is a simple concept. How many Amazon stores do we have here in the county? Wait, Amazon is on-line, they do not have stores. Right, as a society we love going on-line to shop, to chat, to share pictures of our lunch, to watch cat videos, and to pay bills. More and more transactions are taking place on-line each and every day. When was the last time you were in the Tax Collector’s office? Yesterday? Last week? Last month? Last year? The truth is most people have very few reasons to ever go to the tax office. If you’re like me, you pay your car registration on-line. It is fast, it is simple, and I do not need to go to the Tax Collector’s office to do so. If the office was across the street from me, open 24/7, do you know how I would pay my bill? You guessed it; I’d pay it on-line. Most homeowners with a mortgage pay their real estate tax through their mortgage. The bank handles the payment to the Tax Collector electronically.
Anti-Social in a World Dominated by Social Media
It is not that I don’t want to deal with the fine people who work at the Tax Collector’s office, it’s just that.. well, I don’t want to deal with the fine people who work the Tax Collector’s office. But let us be honest, neither do you. You love the convenience of doing things online. If this were not true stores at the mall would not be closing, and shares of Amazon.com, Inc. would not be selling at $800 per share. Every business and government agency wants us to do things on-line. It is easier for us, easier for them, more accurate, and less costly. It makes sense and why businesses and government agencies promote on-line self-service. Our Tax Collector’s office is no different.
The Truth Comes Out
So, what exactly is the purpose of the proposed 20,000 square foot Tax Collector’s building that will cost the taxpayers of the county $7 million to build? A building that will require lots of staff, salaries, benefits, phone, utilities, and all the other things an office uses. Why expand brick and mortar when the future is now, and that future is internet self-service transactions? Additional revenue? No. For the most part the revenue will not change. Remember the bulk of their budget comes from the 2% they charge to collect taxes. The number of tax offices has no correlation to the taxes paid in the county or the number of DMV transactions in the county. A massive increase in expenses with no positive effect on revenue is bad business. I think our residents are tired of all the things that have happened in this county based on bad business decisions. Chris Craft in his attempt to defend the building of a defacto tax dollar sinkhole claimed the building will house a substation for the Sheriff’s Dept. and a satellite office for the Property Appraiser. That is great news! Except that Bobby Hopkins called Sheriff Ken Mascara and Ken Pruitt our Property Appraiser and asked them about Craft’s claim. Their collective responses were, “Nope, never heard of that,” and “We don’t want anything to do with that building.”
It Was the Dog, I Swear
A statement that easy to prove a lie is usually only told by a child standing next to a broken lamp. We should not entrust multi-million dollar budgets to people who act like children when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. We expect answers, truthful answers, serious answers because these are serious questions. That statement alone should be enough to sink this Chris Craft out at sea. Before being Tax Collector, Craft spent two terms on the County Commission. There, his poor decisions and bad governance were hidden as a single individual in a group of five. Now flying solo, he has no one else to blame for his failure and fiscal irresponsibility.
It Is Time to Put an Adult in Charge
Bobby Hopkins is a name that everyone in this county is familiar with. Hopkins is loved by this community. Anyone who makes it to the ranks of pro-football and is an 11-time World Champion Arm Wrestler understands what it means to be dedicated to the task at hand. After his time in sports Hopkins focused that dedication on his faith and his community and to everyone whom he comes in contact with. The Yiddish term to describe Bobby Hopkins is ‘mensch.’ We will leave it up to you to look up the meaning. Bobby will tell you he is not polished, that he is not a slick talker, that he is not a politician. We think that is a good thing because we now see the results of what happens when you stick a slick talking, polished politician in a position where a businessperson belongs. Hopkins has been self-employed for 35 years. Being self-employed and a business owner means you keep an eye on the bottom line. It becomes ingrained and a force of habit. Every dollar you spend must be a meaningful and necessary dollar. We expect this will be the attitude that Hopkins will bring to the Tax Collector’s office. If so, the residents of St Lucie County will be very, very well served. That $7 million boondoggle is not built yet. We have the power to change course. We can save each other a lot of pain and heartache by doing the right thing on November 8th, and at early voting and voting by the mail. Vote your pocketbook, Vote for Bobby Hopkins.