As he opened the Hendry County Board’s regular meeting the week before Thanksgiving, Chairman Michael Swindle didn’t know beforehand how grateful he’d be to hear from County Tax Collector Pat Langford first, before getting down to the night’s business.
Mr. Langford appeared to deliver, in person, an upbeat end-of-the-year report to the county commissioners that brought a smile to every face around the dais, with a big, fat check to top it off that Mr. Swindle would not let out of his sight the rest of the evening.
“I’ve got our excess-fee check to give you this year, for a total of $170,422.21. That’s 45 percent higher than last year, and I’m proud of our staff,” Mr. Langford started, explaining: “We’ve made some changes to save some money to give you people money back and also purchase some things we need at our office to do a better job, and they’re falling right in line. This is not an ‘I’ in the tax collector, it’s a ‘We,’ and they do a great job, they really do. We’ve got wonderful people. In case you want to know, some of the things we’ve done … ”
Chairman Swindle answered, “Well, yes, I was going to ask!”
The tax collector then went down his list like Santa checking his lineup of bad and good children for Christmas — except there wasn’t even one bad entry on Mr. Langford’s list.
“Well, one of the good things is the concealed weapons (permit) issuance. You know we make $22, every one we do, like on a driver’s license we make $6.25,” he said. “And we’re trying to train more people so that people can come in and just get a license – they don’t have to have an appointment – and word is getting around that you can just show up in LaBelle and get your license, so that’s helping. It’s working real good.”
And although Mr. Langford also told commissioners that the county’s saving some money on Tax Collector’s Office workers’ insurance subsidies because their share of the health insurance cost has been increased, “they’re just happy to have the type of insurance they have through our county, so there’s no complaining there.”
He said the office also has moved three employees to part-time rather than full-time status and that “we’re keeping our overtime under the allowed limits a lot better than we were.”
Another improvement his office has made is through a practice that Mr. Langford says is good both for taxpayers and county government. “We’re collecting more taxes by sending out letters to people that their property, a certificate has been sold on it, and they might lose their property, and we’re wording that in a way that a lot of them are coming and paying their taxes to keep from losing their property,” he explained. Along with that, the tax collector is trying to be of more help to taxpayers who find themselves having a hardship paying their taxes.
“We’re setting up more people with installment plans. If they can’t pay their taxes, we’re letting them know more about the installment plans so they can keep their land. You know, they can’t come up with $700 a year but they can come up with it divided by four during the year a lot better,” Mr. Langford said.
In addition, he’s ramped up oversight to where no purchase is made in the office that he does not sign for, so “we’ve cut down on wastefulness. I do some crazy things like I did in my other business; we use the front page and the back page of paper. That paper’s expensive,” he added. “I can’t believe how much it is!”
Chairman Swindle replied, “Yeah, it doesn’t grow on trees,” to chuckles all around the room.”
Finally, Mr. Langford recounted: “Another big savings is our new software system, eGov, our taxing software system. We negotiated the price; it’s like $25,000 cheaper than the previous provider we had. And, like I said before, our staff is awesome. They’re just wonderful people. [Citizens] tell us all the time how they love coming to Hendry County to … especially get their tags and titles and concealed-weapons permits. So I can’t say enough about our staff.”
He also buttered up the board a bit: “I appreciate you guys and ladies. What happened during the hurricane was horrible, and you’ve done a great job. I just wanted to take this opportunity to tell you that.”
Chairman Swindle applauded Mr. Langford’s “forward thinking and proactive leadership on your part and your staff’s part,” adding, about the 45 percent higher check for excess fees, “That’s remarkable. We greatly appreciate what you do there. We appreciate your being here, and doing that.”
Mr. Swindle then moved on with the agenda, but he kept fondling the check. “I’m going to put that big check – I don’t want to put that big check away – right here where I can see it,” he said, grinning.