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Government-Think in Marion County, Florida

I just encountered an absolutely classic bit of government think.  Here is the background.

In Florida, on each night stay in the campgrounds we run in Marion County, we collect a 6% state sales tax, a 0.5% county sales tax, and a 2% tourist development tax, for a total of 8.5%.  Until this month, we reported and paid all three taxes to the state of Florida on one simple return.  The state then divvied the money up to the counties.  Apparently, this latter process could take up to 90 days before the County got their tourist development money.

The County commissioners of Marion County did not like waiting 90 days for their tourist development money.  Remember, this is not general revenue money, but supposedly trust fund money that must be spent on tourist advertising and the like.  Also, recognize that 90 days for a government body to disperse money is pretty normal - I find I often have to wait as long as 6 months to get a check out of the feds.

Anyway, the County wanted its money faster.  So it decided to collect the money itself.  First this involved more staff hours and designing a new online collection system, costs that are completely incremental because the state of Florida was performing these functions before (and still are performing them).  Today, it now requires two systems and clerical staffs to collect money that was once required by just one. 

Already, this seems like idiocy to any business person.  Is adding a whole new staff and systems really worth getting money 90 days faster?  I guess it is possible, but even if one could argue this point, we now get to the real government-think.  Because there is no way anyone in whatever cost-benefit trade-off they ran considered the time and effort that would be required of individual taxpayers.  Even in my small company, this will now require extra clerical labor each month as well as an initial system reprogramming to add the extra tax authority.  If one considers thousands of other businesses in the exact same position, the amount of investment is enormous.

But in my experience, when running cost-benefit trade-offs, the government never, ever considers investment and time required of the citizens who must comply.  I have seen governments make changes designed to save a few man-hours a month in their own clerical departments that cause thousands or millions of man-hours of extra work among taxpayers.   A year or two ago, Mono County, California forced us to go from one to twelve reports each month for our lodging tax payments just to save auditors a few hours work every three years.   And do you know why?  Because the government treats us all as serfs.  As far as they are concerned, our labor is free, because they have the power to compel us to do whatever they ask without compensation.

Postscript:  Here is my other Florida county tax collector pet peave.  All the tax collectors in Florida put their own personal name all over everything.  Their web site is not "marion county tax collector"  but "George Albright, Marion County Tax Collector." Their stationary has this man's name all over it.  When I right a check to them, I am supposed to include this man's name.  I hate this kind of public employee self-aggrandizement.  It is a blatant use of taxpayer money to try to aid one's next election chances, and it is a waste of money when a new person comes in office because every piece of printed material must be thrown out and reprinted.  This seems to be fairly unique to Florida.  Look at the Marion County links for other states in the same search and you don't see the same thing going on in those states.

Posted on April 17, 2008 at 08:36 AM | Permalink

Comments

I love this statement:
"And do you know why? Because the government treats us all as serfs. As far as they are concerned, our labor is free, because they have the power to compel us to do whatever they ask without compensation."

Posted by: Rob | Apr 17, 2008 8:43:01 AM

I have to do the same thing here in Austin, Tx whenever I pay my vehicle registration and property taxes. Checks go to Nelda Wells Spears, Tax Collector & Assessor, Travis County. Or something similar to that. It's the only 3 checks that I write every year.

Posted by: Richard | Apr 17, 2008 8:48:46 AM

Years ago, when I was a bureaucrat, I tried to convince my employer we could get the information we were requiring that thousands of businesses send us in hard copy in an annual agency-specific report from another federal agency's computers.

Yes, 80% of the reports could just go away; the remaining reports were, for the most part, from the riskiest businesses our agency regulated-where we should be looking, if we really cared about public health or the environment.

The net savings to the agency, $250 thousand, and, we'd be able to focus on where the risk was; savings to the businesses we inflicted this reporting on was at least $1 million (1983$).

Saving money has no friends in a bureaucracy. Bureaucracy exists only to drain our wallets and freedoms.

Posted by: tribal elder | Apr 17, 2008 9:58:29 AM

Also note that getting their money 90 days faster is only a one-time improvement. It's like a company changing your pay from the end of the month to the beginning of the month. The first month, you'll get an "early windfall", but after that, you're still getting the same amount of money each month.

Posted by: Brad Warbiany | Apr 17, 2008 10:56:52 AM

When I was in Texas, my voter registration info was addressed to the proper official by name.

Posted by: Craig | Apr 17, 2008 11:32:37 AM

When we first moved here (Omaha, Douglas County) we were supposed to make out checks to a person.

We didn't.

The next Treasurer changed all that (to her credit), but unfortunately got caught in some other dumb stuff.

Posted by: Larry Sheldon | Apr 17, 2008 1:07:41 PM

Brad-

Excellent point lost on the dimwits who came up with this.

Total benefit = Amount of $'s gotten 90 days sooner x 90 Muni Bond Rate/4

Since this yields a one time savings but the cost to administer the new program continues in perpetuity, it is inconceivable that this thing is anything other than a huge money loser. George Albright, Marion County Tax Collector should be fired for this money loser of a program.

Posted by: franco | Apr 17, 2008 1:16:52 PM

Absolutely agree about the "serf" comment.

Governments and bureaucrats do this in many many ways (reducing their own costs at the expense of companies and individuals), because they can then claim they are reducing taxpayers' expenditure. Shift of reasonably small "public" cost to much larger private cost is immaterial in the considerations. It may not even be understood by them, because after all we are just serfs!

I love the Governments who asset their green credentials, then install traffic lights on a highway rather than (somewhat) more expensive interchange - all those cars with infinitely high fuel consumption (mpg) while sitting at traffic lights.....

Posted by: smcg | Apr 17, 2008 2:20:59 PM

I have never written a tax collector's name on a check- and they still cash the check!

This is one of my pet peeves also. When I lived in New Orleans, the crooked mayor's name was on absolutely everything- "This new levee brought to you by Mayor ...", etc.

Posted by: Tom Kelly | Apr 17, 2008 3:22:15 PM

Concerning Coyote's pet peeve, I do the same as Tom Kelly: I refuse to write any treasurer's or county clerk's name on my checks. We have both in Shelby County (Memphis and surrounding areas).

Is it possible that Marion County violated Florida law by setting up a separate collection system? Perhaps the whole mess could be overturned.

Posted by: Dr. T | Apr 17, 2008 3:44:50 PM

Colorado (or El Paso County anyway) just stopped doing this a couple of years ago. I remember ripping up two checks in one night. Writing El Paso County, realizing my mistake, then doing the exact same thing again. Yeah, I'm not that bright.

Posted by: scraphoops | Apr 17, 2008 5:54:36 PM

California county assessors and tax collectors routinely put their names ahead of all else.

I have always written the checks to "______ County Tax Collector." Every check has been cashed and I've never been chastized.

It's not a very big blow, I realize, but by ignoring the names, I have never memorized them... defeating their exact purpose.

Posted by: Bill Lever | Apr 17, 2008 6:20:23 PM

"But in my experience, when running cost-benefit trade-offs, the government never, ever considers investment and time required of the citizens who must comply."

You have obviously been through a 20 minute line to throw a few cents into a toll booth.

Posted by: Anon E. Mouse | Apr 17, 2008 7:53:01 PM

smcg,

Governments and bureaucrats do this in many many ways (reducing their own costs at the expense of companies and individuals)

If only they were saving money at the county level! They're not. It's costing them more to do this, as Coyote pointed out. I know, I know. Sometimes the stupid is so stupid that your mind won't let you believe it.

Posted by: Methinks | Apr 17, 2008 8:02:27 PM

Tom,
I think Katrina put an end to that practice. Imagine trying that stunt now. People might start thinking "Hey it wasn't the Army Corps of Engineers who is responsible for the levee that collapsed it was Mayor So and So.".

Posted by: Jim Collins | Apr 18, 2008 5:26:42 AM

I've always been suspicious the real reason for obviously financially stupid decisions like this is to expand the head count in the government agency. 10 more clerks equals 10 more unionized government employees.

Jeff

Posted by: Jeff | Apr 18, 2008 7:28:21 AM

I don't mind at all that the Hayes Township treasurer puts his name and home address on his stationery - because he works out of his home, saving the costs of an office.

Posted by: markm | Apr 19, 2008 12:29:26 PM

I'm confused. Why exactly does the tax collector want to be well known to everyone.

I know he's only the messenger, but c'mon!

Posted by: greg | Apr 25, 2008 9:31:21 PM

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