Thanks to staff efficiency, Tax Collector Ford-Coates tells county commissioners, her office has lowest cost per capita of all tax collector offices in state

She anticipates returning about $19 million to county this year in ‘profit’

Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates addresses the commissioners during her budget presentation in June 2023. File image

Thanks to the efficiency of her staff, Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates told the Sarasota County Commission this week, her office’s cost per capita is $22.36, which is the lowest of all tax collector offices in the state.

The average cost per capita for tax collectors’ offices across Florida is 50% higher than her office’s figure, she added during her June 19 budget workshop appearance before the board. That number is $33.55. For other tax collectors in Southwest Florida, Ford-Coates continued, the average is $49.26, which is 120% higher than the cost for her office.

“To put this in perspective,” she pointed out, “my budget would be $5 million more if I was operating at the state level and $10 million higher if I was operating at the same rates as other counties in Southwest Florida.”

Ford-Coates’ comments came as she presented her proposed budget for the 2025 fiscal year. All of the other county constitutional officers, except Property Appraiser Bill Furst, appeared before the board members this week. (The Sarasota News Leader did not hear any reason offered for Furst’s inability to address the board when Chair Michael Moran inquired about that.)

Late June traditionally is the time when the commissioners hold in-depth workshops in preparation for adopting their next county fiscal year budget. (See the related article in this issue.) They also hear from the directors of the departments they oversee, along with appointed officials in the county, such as the District 12 medical examiner.

Ford-Coates also pointed out this week that she anticipates her staff members will collect approximately $29 million in fees this year for the services they provide on behalf of the state and the county government.

Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

For the state, she explained, staff takes in payments for motor vehicle titles and registrations; the issuance of drivers’ licenses, ID cards, concealed weapons permits, and hunting and fishing licenses; and road tests for individuals applying for drivers’ licenses.

For the county, she said, the Tax Collector’s Office collects property tax revenue; Tourist Development, or “bed tax” revenue; and the Sarasota County Business Tax revenue — “so far,” she added with a laugh, referring to the last item.

Earlier in the June 19 budget workshop, the board members voted to authorize staff to formally advertise a July 9 public hearing after which they will vote on discontinuing that business tax. Chair Michael Moran led that initiative, having voiced displeasure over the years about the revenue from that tax supporting the operations of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County.

(On June 4, during a regular commission meeting, numerous leaders of businesses in the county implored the board members to keep the tax in place. In the current fiscal year, the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) received $475,368 in Local Business Tax revenue, which made up 28% of its budget. Yet, the commissioners voted 3-2 to proceed with plans to discontinue the tax. Commissioners Ron Cutsinger and Mark Smith cast the “No” votes.)

“With our costs so low,” Ford-Coates continued on June 19, her estimate is that she will return to the county approximately $19 million of her office’s overall revenue this year. “If this were the private sector,” she pointed out, “we would call it ‘profit.’ ”

In 2023, she noted, she turned over about $16.3 million in “profit” to the county.

Keeping costs down in spite of inflation and hike in population

Ford-Coates also told the board members that, over the past 16 years, she has had “relatively low” increases in her office budgets. That has been possible, she stressed, even though the Florida Legislature required tax collectors’ offices to take over all drivers’ license services by June 2015.

“The percentage of our workload increased by 30%” as a result of that state action, she said. Moreover, she added, the county population has continued to climb, meaning more customers to serve.

After factoring out the financial effects of the drivers’ licenses change and the rise in the number of county residents, she added, “The remainder of my budget increased significantly less than the rate of inflation during the same [16-year] period.”

“I give full credit for that efficiency to my exceptional staff of over 100 dedicated public servants,” she emphasized.

With those comments, she was referring to a slide that county administrative staff had shown the commissioners that morning, Ford-Coates pointed out.

Image courtesy Sarasota County

Her FY 2009 budget was $6,233,634, the slide said. The county population in the 2009 fiscal year was 377,360, it noted, while the population in the 2025 fiscal year has been estimated at 477,416, a 27% jump, compared to the FY 2009 total.

The slide added that Ford-Coates’ preliminary budget is $11,734,439 for the 2025 fiscal year, which is 88% higher than the FY 2009 figure.

(When Commissioner Joe Neunder asked Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Management Officer Steve Botelho why the slide included the FY 2009 budgets and those proposed for FY 2025, Botelho explained that staff chose 2009 for comparison purposes because the 2009 fiscal year was the first affected by the Great Recession.)

For the 2025 fiscal year, Ford-Coates said, she anticipates her budget to be higher by 5.9% than her FY 2024 budget. (Another county slide said that her final budget is not due until Aug. 1.) She has control of only 3.2% of that increase, she continued. The remaining 2.7%, Ford-Coates added, reflects higher expenses for health insurance, state retirement system payments and what county administrative staff refers to as “internal services.” The latter term, Botelho explained that day, covers services that the county government provides to the constitutional officers, such as telephones, vehicles and computer equipment.

This is another slide shown to the commissioners this week. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Please note that our [budget] increase for next year will be more than offset by our increase in revenue of $2 million,” Ford-Coates told the commissioners.

Her budget, Ford-Coates also reminded the board members, “is approved by the Florida Department of Revenue.”

Among other information that she provided during her presentation, Ford-Coates said that on an average day, she and her staff “help 1,100 customers in person, answer 600 phone calls, [and] process 700 pieces of mail and 1,200 online transactions.”
The Tax Collector’s Office has four service centers across the county, she pointed out.

“I’m happy to answer any questions,” she said after she completed her presentation.

When Chair Moran asked whether any commissioner had a question, no one spoke.

In August 2023, Moran filed to run against Ford-Coates in the General Election this year. He is a Republican; she is the solitary Democrat to serve as a county constitutional officer.

As her biography notes, Ford-Coates first was elected Sarasota County tax collector in 1984; she subsequently has been re-elected nine times.

Moran, who first was elected to the District 1 seat in 2016, is term-limited as a commissioner.

June 19 marked the first occasion that this reporter can recall, over the past eight years at least, that one or more commissioners have not commended Ford-Coates for the service that Ford-Coates and her staff provide county residents.

Even Christian Ziegler, a former leader of the Republican Party of Florida, offered praise to Ford-Coates, when he was a county commissioner.

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