After closing its doors for nearly a month amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pasco County Tax Collector’s five countywide branches are back open for business.
And, they’ve been quite busy ever since reopening, Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano said during an East Pasco Networking Group virtual meeting earlier this month.
Besides handling various tax payments, Fasano said his office has had an influx of other requests of late, such as road tests for driving licenses, hunting and fishing licenses, issuing applications and renewals for concealed weapons permits, and more.
In fact, concealed weapons permits, specifically, have shot up in recent weeks, he said.
Concealed weapons permits are offered at three of the county tax collector’s five offices — in Dade City, Wesley Chapel and Gulf Harbors, respectively.
And, those offices recently have been “overwhelmed” with the number of people seeking concealed weapons permits, Fasano said. Over 100 permits were issued each weekday in the first week of June alone, he said.
Fasano observed of the influx: “I won’t expand as to why, I can only assume, of what is happening throughout this country and throughout this world. This happens a lot, whenever there’s some unrest, of any sort, we see a large population of people coming in, old, young, and they’ve come into our three offices that we provide weapons permits.”
Fasano added “the vast majority” of weapons permits issued are from people who’ve never had one before, while some others were simply renewals. He went on to mention the three branches provide a “one-stop shop” in offering applications, fingerprints, photographs and related services for concealed weapons permits; it usually takes a few weeks for new permits to be issued, pending state approval, he said.
Revenue shortfall, payment assistance programs
While tax collector’s offices and lobbies were closed for much of April, the government agency did provide many services through its website, call center and by mail.
However, the agency still took a “significant revenue loss” during that period in most everything but property taxes, Fasano said. That included fees collected from providing motor vehicle services, title work, birth certificates, concealed weapons permits and so on.
But, despite the shortfall in fees, Fasano noted his office didn’t have to lay off or furlough any of its 200 or so employees.
Said Fasano, “We were able to do things so that no one got laid off, no one lost their job, no one had to collect unemployment, and everybody stayed in their position, working every day, five days a week, and it’s been successful.”
Meanwhile, for those residents who’ve been laid off or furloughed in the wake of COVID-19, the tax office has multiple payment assistance programs for those struggling.
Fasano mentioned there’s quarterly property tax payment plans, as well as partial payment options, where residents can pay increments of at least $100 at a time.
As a sign of the present economic hardships, Fasano noted his office has been forced to issue roughly 1,000 more tax lien certificates (an enforceable first lien against the property for unpaid real estate taxes) compared to this time last year.
“We had a lot of phone calls from people who were having some difficulty paying their taxes this year,” Fasano said. “It’s just a sad situation for everybody.”
COVID-19 safety measures implemented
The tax collector also outlined how each branch has taken additional safety precautions since reopening, in the wake of COVID-19.
Those precautions have entailed spreading chairs 6 feet apart; installing countertop shields to create a barrier between representatives and customers; encouraging — but not mandating — customers to wear masks; and, limiting the amount of customers in the office at any one time.
Additionally, tax collector has developed a text message notification system that alerts waiting customers when they’re ready to be serviced. The technology provides an added layer of social distancing, Fasano said, as customers can choose to sit in their car or wait outside until they’re alerted that their ticket number will be called shortly. It’s similar to how restaurants sends texts to guests for waitlist updates and automatic reservation reminders, he said. The service is already underway at the Wesley Chapel office, and should be available at all five offices in forthcoming weeks, Fasano said.
Said Fasano, “We think that’s going to go a long way in, I hope, in more social distancing and trying to comply with the governor’s (Ron DeSantis) suggestions.”
For more information, visit PascoTaxes.com.
Published July 1, 2020