There’s more than just taxes at the Tax Collector’s Office

Sam Steele, Monroe County Tax Collector, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the tax world.

Business tax renewal time is upon us.

Steele said, “Per Florida statute and Monroe County code ordinances, it is a requirement for anybody who is conducting business within the county receiving monetary revenue in return, they are required to have a local business tax receipt with us. It used to be called an occupational license. Some people still refer to it as a business license. It’s not technically a license. It’s a tax for the privilege of doing business within the county.”

Those taxes have been mailed and are due by September 30.

Steele reminded, “They’ll become delinquent as of October 1. A lot of people will notice that the renewal notices look different this year. We just redesigned them, resized them into postcard size. That’s actually saved the taxpayers thousands of dollars already. It has QR codes on both sides of it that takes you directly to our website. So it makes paying taxes easy. That’s my main goal. I know it’s not something that everybody loves to do. But you know, everything we collect, it does go back into the county to fund essential services.”

The county is in the middle of the budget process and the tax collector’s office is a part of that planning.

Steele said, “As a constitutional office, our budget process differs from that of the BOCC as well as the municipalities. A tax collector’s office can be structured either one of two ways. One is as a Budget Office, which we choose to operate as. That means that we’re a self-funding government agency. We receive a fee or a commission off of each service that we provide. Tax collectors are a limited and specialized agent for various state agencies, such as DHSMV. So we’re known for issuing registration titles, driver’s licenses. Sometimes people refer to us as the DMV. We’re not actually the DMV, we just provide the services on behalf of them. Our budget goes directly through the Florida Department of Revenue.”

Each year by August 1, the budget must be submitted.

Steele said, “We just submitted our request last Friday. We’ll get our approval, the tentative approval comes back by September 15th. If we see that we need to make any modifications, we still have 15 days to do that. Then we’ll get our final budget approved by September 30. The second way a tax collector’s office can be structured is as a budget office, where that would mean that we would have to enter into a written resolution with BOCC and our budget would actually go through them rather than the DoR. In my opinion, that kind of defeats the whole autonomous nature of the tax collector’s office. We requested approximately $6.5 million dollars for our budget and that is for all the expenses to operate all six of our offices and all 61 employees, as well as continue to provide innovations and technology to make things easier for the public.”

The Monroe County Tax Office offers a number of different services – it’s more than just taxes.

Steele said, “We do issue hunting and fishing licenses. I’ve seen a trend that I believe more people are going online nowadays on to FWC ‘s website to purchase their fishing licenses. I actually just got back last night. I’ve been gone for a week. I was out in Austin, Texas for the National Association of County Collectors, Treasures and Finance Officers. It was actually very informational. Iit was a great networking event on a national level. We’re all so different. I was talking to the treasurer from Maricopa County in Arizona. We were talking about the delinquent property tax collection process and the consensus from everybody was that Florida actually probably has the best public policy when it comes to the delinquent property tax collection process. We have our tax certificate sale every year, June 1. So even if no one paid their property tax, this tax certificate sale allows the county and the authorities to still get the revenue from the those funds and then an investor is paying for somebody’s debt and accruing an interest at the same time. So regardless, the county gets the money and then an investor makes a little profit from paying some of the debt and then the property owner still has a few years before anything drastic like their property go into auction. It is a great policy as far as collections for the county and also protecting the homeowner.”

There have been some changes to the concealed carry permits.

Steele said, “Just to clarify for everybody, it’s permit-less carry, constitutional carry. It is not an open carry law. Florida is not an open carry state. They’re not abolishing the concealed weapon permit. We are still going to continue to issue those. In my personal opinion, I think it’s very beneficial for someone to still get their CWP and in order to get it, none of the laws have changed. You still have to go through a training course. You have to be a certified that you’re competent, know how to handle a firearm, which you’re going to have a firearm, you have to know how to use it. So that is not going to change for us. I am interested to see what the fiscal impact is going to be statewide. We had a record high in 2020. We had an election year, which played into it, as well as the pandemic. Our CWP fees, statewide and through tax collector’s offices throughout Florida, the revenue doubled. The amount of transactions was unprecedented. We did see a decline the past couple of years and I know with this permit-less carry bill, we will see a decrease in that. Our office will get about $50,000 a year off of that service. I forecast it dropping down closer to about 20 range. I still think it’s beneficial for people to get that. We also have reciprocity with about 37 other states. So if you’re traveling with a firearm, you know there is reciprocity there.”

There are also requirements for rental properties.

Steele explained, “Regardless of the length of the rental, whether it’s a nightly rental or an annual rental, you are required to get that local business tax receipt. It’s $20 a year per unit. In addition to that, if you are renting for six months or less, you’re required to have the tourist development account. Tourist development tax, it’s also referred to bed tax, vacation rental tax. So that’s when you pay our office 5% of your gross monthly rentals and then 7.5 percent is remitted to Department of Revenue. In addition to that, if you are renting for 20 days or less, you also are required by law to have a state license with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. It sounds like a lot but if you go on our website, we have a new rental vacation requirements publication on there. It spells everything out. You can find the brochure and all of our offices. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Everybody knows we’re dealing with the workforce housing crisis. I don’t have much of a dog in that fight, but what I do have is the teeth to enforce the vacation rental requirements. If we find a property that is non compliant and we purchased the software that data mines over 80 different online platforms. It will check for advertisements such as Airbnb, VRBO and then cross-references with our in house system to make sure that they have an account. If they don’t, and we find that ad, and it’s got the rate and it’s got reviews on it, by law I can go back for 36 months, create an assessment. So if we find that there’s a fraudulent rental property that’s renting for, let’s just say $2,000 a night, I can go back $2,000 a night for 36 months, create an assessment on there, say this is what you owe now, includes penalties and interest and that doesn’t stop accruing until you pay. The property owner does have a certain time period to appeal that by showing us their books and proving us that we’re wrong. If they still don’t become compliant, we also have the ability to freeze their bank account, put a lien on their property and if they still don’t want to become compliant after that, that’s when we refer them over to the State Attorney’s Office for prosecution. There have been quite a few people who have actually done some jail time for failure to comply. I will throw the book at you if you don’t become compliant with rental properties, because that pushes our workforce out and it’s important.”

For more information, click here: