Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano has personally witnessed how the area where he grew up and now governs has evolved over the past several decades.
Case in point: When Fasano moved with his family to the Holiday area some 50 years ago as a 12-year-old boy, he recalls seeing signage advertising homes selling for just $6,999.
That’s quite the far cry from today, with billboards promoting $300,000 to $500,000 residences along State Road 52 and 54.
“It’s just absolutely amazing where we’ve come over time,” said Fasano, speaking during an East Pasco Networking Group breakfast meeting earlier this month, at IHOP in Dade City.
The area’s reputation also is changing, Fasano said.
“Pasco has changed over time, not only politically, but also as far as the businesses in Pasco County.
“We’re no longer the stepchild to Pinellas and Hillsborough (counties), if you will. We’re now looked at as a leading community, and you can see it, especially in the Wesley chapel area, the Land O’ Lakes area,” he said.
The emerging growth in Pasco and surrounding Tampa Bay area is being felt at the local tax collector’s office, too.
Fasano said the agency sees roughly 60,000 in-person customers per week across its five branch offices — in Dade City, Gulf Harbors, Land O’ Lakes, New Port Richey, Wesley Chapel — not including additional services handled via phone, mail or website.
This is up from around 40,000 customers per week at only four branches when Fasano first was appointed to the role in 2013 by then Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and following 18 years served as a legislator in the Florida House and Senate.
Anticipating a forthcoming population boost, the agency swiftly opened a new branch back in August 2014, in Compark 75 at 4610 Pet Lane, just off Wesley Chapel Boulevard.
When it first opened, the office in southeast Pasco was serving just 50 customers per day, Fasano said.
It’s now averaging anywhere from 600 to 800 customers daily, and is the tax collector’s second-busiest office, he said.
With that, the agency also is considering opening up yet another office somewhere along State Road 54 or State Road 52 near the Suncoast Parkway “because that area is growing,” said Fasano.
“All you need to do is drive up, especially (State Road) 54, it’s luxury apartment complex after luxury apartment complex — a lot of them are younger families needing services, driver’s licenses, (because) they’re moving in from out of state,” he explained.
Busy offices are not just a byproduct of the county’s residential and business growth, however.
Some partly is due to word spreading that the Pasco Tax Collector doesn’t require appointments for service (except for road tests) and also welcomes out-of-county residents from surrounding Hernando, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Helping non-Pasco residents mitigates financial losses the agency takes on handling motor vehicle-related services, Fasano said, noting it’s Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that takes in most of those fees, and not the county.
The blanket, come-all service is something Fasano takes pride in — noting tax collectors in adjacent counties oftentimes require appointments two or three weeks in advance, while only serving their respective county residents.
“We welcome everyone,” Fasano said, proudly. “We have people that come up from Hillsborough County, pleading us, ‘Please don’t change it, please don’t change it,’ because they come up there, and wait maybe 30 minutes, 40 minutes or 45 minutes, and they’re able to get the service. It’s either wait 35 or 45 minutes, or you wait three weeks with Hillsborough County to get an appointment.”
Conversely, Fasano pointed out even the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s Office (and its eight branches) appreciates Pasco shouldering the workload.
“Hillsborough County loves us,” Fasano said.
“They’re happy that we’re taking their customers because it’s less people that have to make these appointments and yell at them down there.
“They, in fact, say to people, ‘Hey look, if you need something done right now, go up to Pasco.’”
The Pasco Tax Collector is open all five days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., while 4 p.m. onward is reserved for Pasco residents only.
Pasco residents also can get service on Saturdays, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, at the branches in Gulf Harbors and near Wesley Chapel.
“We wanted to make sure that Pasco residents have a day to themselves and that’s what happens on Saturday, and I will tell you that Pasco residents love it,” Fasano said.
He added: “I’ve got to make certain that we take care of our Pasco residents. They’re the ones that pay our salary, my salary, and the rest of our employees.”
The Pasco Tax Collector is mandated for a number of responsibilities, including providing driver licenses, auto registrations, property taxes, hunting and fishing permits, concealed weapons permits, birth certificates, fingerprints, vehicle identification checks, business receipt taxes and other services.
Fasano said the agency recently has witnessed an “an enormous amount” of title transfer on cars and boats, speculating it could be a result of stimulus dollars and returns on income taxes coming through.
The Gulf Harbors office recently handled over 800 boat titles in just one business day, he said.
“My staff tell me, after seeing all this title work on boats, they wonder if there’s boats out there to buy anymore, you know,” Fasano quipped.
Issuing concealed weapons permits also is bourgeoning, with Fasano pointing out the county leads in the state in terms of providing or renewing such permits: “It’s way ahead of every other county,” he said.
He then joked, “I think our office has armed everyone in Pasco.”
Prioritizing tax collector employees
One of Fasano’s more notable undertakings has been increasing wages and promotional opportunities for its some 200-plus employees at the tax collector’s office.
Starting salary was around $9 per hour when Fasano first arrived to the constitutional post.
“We had employees who were employed at our tax collector office for over 10 years collecting food stamps. Unacceptable. We changed that immediately,” he said.
Now the starting wage for an entry-level customer service representative is $16 per hour.
“Our employees are making a decent salary where they don’t have to reach out, and probably not need a second job any longer,” he said.
“I’ve had employees come to us and say they are now buying homes,” he added.
Fasano underscored the necessity to increase wages — to keep governmental effectiveness, reduce office turnover and otherwise “to let our employees know that they are important, that they are the key to keeping our county going.”
He observed, “Let’s remember this, we collect the taxes, and we provide those dollars to our board of county commissioners, to our school board, to mosquito control, to water district, to CDDs (community developmental districts), to paying those at the county collecting the street lights services and the road assessments, and the list goes on.
“If we’re not around, nobody can collect those dollars, so we needed to stay open to make certain that people were able to pay their taxes, and we could collect them and turn those dollars over to the taxing entities, and we’ve been successful in doing that.”
Meanwhile, Pasco County Chief Deputy Tax Collector Tim Couet has developed a leadership program where lower-level employees within the organization are identified by branch managers and directors for training for future advancement opportunities.
“We have made it a goal that when a new position of leadership opens up, we do not go outside our offices to hire someone,” Fasano said.
“If I have to go outside to Ohio or New York or wherever to hire somebody for a management position, for a director’s position, or for a supervisory position, I haven’t done my job.
“Two-hundred nine (employees), there has to be someone in there that’s qualified to take that job, and we’ve been successful over the past seven years. We’ve made it our policy that we will hire within.”
Published June 30, 2021