April is National Tax Burden Month. WDW – Florida has asked a tax collector to answer some questions about taxes in Florida. We want to thank Barbara Ford-Coates, Florida Tax Collector serving Sarasota County, for providing answers to our tax questions. Since property taxes comprise the largest dollar amount collected, the below answers from Barbara Ford-Coates address those taxes.
1. What kind of role do you play in shaping or implementing Florida’s tax policy?
The Florida Legislature has the primary responsibility for the state’s tax policy. The Tax Collector’s role is to advise the State on the most efficient way to implement the final law. [E.G. Florida Tax Collectors recently worked to give taxpayers the option of receiving their tax bill(s) electronically.]
2. What are some of the most common misconceptions citizens have about Florida state taxes? What are some of the most common mistakes you see citizens make when filing their tax returns?
One misconception we hear about relates to the time period. Since Florida taxes are collected in arrears, taxpayers sometimes believe they are paying the following year’s taxes. As an example, the 2012 tax bills were mailed around November 1st of 2012 and were payable through March of 2013. A taxpayer who paid the bill in March of 2013 may have thought they were paying the 2013, rather than 2012 tax bill. The most common mistake we see is sending the wrong amount.
3. How do incentives work? Credits? Sales tax holidays? Do you think these help Florida?
Tax collectors have no involvement in incentives, credits or sales tax holidays.
4. How can we make Florida’s tax code simpler and more citizen-friendly? What changes would you suggest?
I think the concept of a locally elected official (Tax Collector, Property Appraiser etc.) working to implement State tax laws provides the best opportunity for citizen-friendly administration. As an elected official, I have both a duty to the state and the taxpayer. As such, I must always work to make paying taxes as simple and easy as possible for the taxpayer. In that role I can and do advise the state how to improve the process.
5. Is your agency doing all it can to collect the taxes it is owed? What is the consequence for not paying Florida taxes on time?
Within a year of receiving the property tax roll from the Property Appraiser and the non-ad valorem districts, we collect over 99.5% of the roll. Of the remaining unpaid taxes, we continue our focused efforts (selling tax certificates, field visits) to collect the rest.
Failure to pay real estate taxes on time results in additional costs to the taxpayer. If the taxes remain unpaid two years after the date of delinquency, the taxpayer is at risk of losing their property. Delinquent real estate taxes are primarily collected through the sale of tax certificates (tax liens) to investors who pay the tax in exchange for having a lien on the property. Unpaid tangible taxes also result in additional penalties and interest to the taxpayer. Delinquencies are collected through a variety of enforcement efforts that include the issuance of warrants, field visits, contacts by phone, email and correspondence, and the sale and seizure of assets.
The state agency that deals most with Florida taxes is the Department of Revenue.
WDW- Florida provided James McAdams, Director Property Tax Oversight, these same questions. Director McAdams provided this reply, “Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your article about tax administration. Since the Department of Revenue does not play a role in the development of tax policy your invitation would be more properly directed to members or staff of the Florida Legislature.”
A copy of this column has been sent to Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Cabinet and all Florida legislators.