Posted Feb 17, 2019 at 2:01 AM
The operation of the Duval County Tax Collector Office has become a big part of the story involving the election of the tax collector.
During the interview by the Times-Union Editorial Board, candidate John Crescimbeni was highly critical of the operation.
Jim Overton, recently elected to the office for almost three months, agreed generally with many of Crescimbeni’s complaints, though he doesn’t think it’s as bad as Crescimbeni does. That was a surprise, and it called for an examination by the Editorial Board.
So we visited four of the 10 Tax Collector offices during recent afternoons: Hogan Road on the Southside, Gateway Mall, Commonwealth Road on the Westside and the main office Downtown.
Here are our key findings:
• Too many of the clerk’s stations are not attended. The branch offices were packed with dozens of customers waiting for service. What’s the staffing problem?
Sherry Hall, the chief deputy tax collector, said in an interview that during afternoons staffers must leave for doctor’s appointments, for training or for sick days. That was the case at the Commonwealth Road branch. If that is the case, then the office needs enough staffers to fill in the gaps.
Hall said the average wait time is 22 minutes, and that is a reduction from previous years.
• Crescimbeni said that he thinks the customers are getting angry at the wait. We did not see that, it was more a sense of resignation. We asked members of our Email Interactive Group for their experiences and received a decent mixture of good and bad experiences. One bad experience involved customers who waited and then discovered they did not have the required documents. That brings up the next point.
• The “greeter” position in several cases was a misnomer. Greeters sit in a cubicle and are not expected to walk around and communicate with customers. One greeter was so intensely focused on a computer screen that he barely made eye contact when approached. A more proactive approach is needed, to have a staffer constantly check with customers to determine their needs.
• The best solution for the traffic jams at the Tax Collector office involves making appointments. Communication is a major issue because many customers may not realize how important they are. TV screens show the first five customers to be served but otherwise there is no way to determine how long a customer’s wait will be. Overton proposes a system that will text customers their wait times.
The TV screens have announcements paid for by advertisers, but we never saw a customer looking at them. There were far too many commercials on the screen and not enough information. And there was some curious entertainment news on the screens, too, including one reference to the Galapagos Islands.
Every citizen who comes to the Tax Collector Office needs to be reminded that appointments make a huge difference; you go to the head of the line at your time.
• Crescimbeni proposed extending hours and Saturday hours, which of course government employees don’t like. All but one branch office closes at 4:30 p.m., which forces people to take time off work.
Having at least one office with extended hours makes sense in a county this large.
In St. Johns County, the main office in St. Augustine is open the last Saturday of the month from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Duval County should do at least that much.
Hall said generally the Duval offices are busiest on Fridays or the end of the month. The best times are mid-week and mid-month but that is no guarantee of a short wait.
Whomever is elected needs to do a thorough evaluation of the system. If more employees are needed and if pay is not high enough to prevent turnover, City Council needs to be informed.
Finally, there is no requirement that the Tax Collector be elected in Jacksonville. In Volusia County, for instance, the position is appointed. Perhaps an appointed position would receive more attention from City Council.
Clearly, major improvements are needed.