Commission chair questions Williston tax office

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By Lou Elliott Jones

Tax Collector Linda Fugate came before the Levy County Commission on Tuesday asking for a resolution authorizing her to conduct county business at satellite offices in Chiefland.

But before it was over — and she did get the resolution passed on a 4-1 vote — she got more than she bargained for as County Commission Chair Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4), who cast the dissenting vote,  questioned the construction costs.

The resolution was on the commission agenda because it was recently learned that the commission never approved conducting county business in the Chiefland office. The Williston office was previously authorized. The resolution’s wording provides “for authorization for the prior operation of such branches.”

But it is the Williston office that sparked the most discussion. Fugate told the commission she collects $30,000 in fees annually in Williston and pays only $2,500 in utilities for the trailer office that is open one day a week.  Fugate said she has employees from the Bronson courthouse office staff the Williston office so there is no extra labor cost.

The Tax Collector’s Office is operated on the fees generated in handling collections for various items like vehicle tags, licenses and vehicle titles. Any excess fees abve the operational cost are paid to the county.

“Thirty thousand in costs with $2,500 in costs to operate — so your ROI (return on investment) is great,” Bell said.

Then he asked about the Williston office construction. Fugate must move because the Williston Community Redevelopment Agency is preparing to renovate the median where the office is located.  She has signed a 99-year lease that calls for $1 in rent, but if any time the office is vacant or unused the building will revert, along with the lease, back to the City of Williston. It is similar to a lease the county has for the EMS station located across the street from the new tax collector’s office.

Fugate told the commission the site prep for the leased land was estimated at $88,000.

 “But the road department is doing it for less than $6,000.” She said she is also planning to use the county Construction and Maintenance Department to build the office. “I am trying to keep it under $150,000,” she said.

Bell said he was concerned that if a new tax collector were elected “another tax collector may not want to be there. Do we have another way to recoup our $150,000?”

Bell said, “We need to work with Williston to recoup our investment.”

At one point Fugate said the project could cost $300,000. She said the money is coming out of her fee collections and acknowledged it would cut into the amount of money she has available to turn over to the county at the end of the year. But, show also added that the state Legislature has given her office new functions in 2014 that will increase fee collections and revenue to the county.

Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston (R-District 5) tried to bring the lively discussion to a close by noting the construction had little to do with the resolution before the board.

 “This is correcting a problem of the past,” Stevens said as he moved for passage. His motion was seconded by Commissioner John Meeks of Bronson (R-District 1).

“We have been in violation for several years,” Bell said. He also said he is not in favor of leasing offices. “I am not attacking your project, I am attacking the structure of your project.”

In other business, the commission approved:

• Spending $15,999.93 to purchase four 2,000 watt and three 5,500 watt Honda generators from Northern Tool & Equipment of Ocala.

 • Seeking bids on a new air conditioning system for the Sheriff’s Office after Sheriff’s Col. Mike Sheffield and Brad Sullivan of W.W. Gay, the department’s AC service company, made the case for replacing the unit. Repairing the AC chiller coil would cost at least $23,000 while replacing the coil and the pneumatic control system would cost about $71,000. Sheffield made it clear “this does not cover inmates.” He said the system cools the administrative offices.