By Oscar Door, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.
Vickie Potts, merely because of the elected position she holds as Tax Collector, may have an undeserved, unpopular reputation among county taxpayers when a tax notice is received. Actually, Potts is a lovely lady of considerable personal charm, who has nothing to do with the taxes you pay except to collect them in accordance with the law. I found her extremely well versed in the duties and responsibilities of her job.
The county tax collector has her main office in the County Administration Building, 18500 Murdock Circle, Port Charlotte, and full-service branches at 410 Taylor St., Punta Gorda, and at 6868 San Casa Drive, Englewood.
Ad valorem real estate taxes are based on the value of real property, and are paid in arrears, i.e. paid after the tax year ends. The tax year runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. The county Property Appraiser’s Office establishes the value of the property and the County Commission, School Board, City Council and other levying bodies set the millage rates. One mill equals $1 per $1,000 of property value.
Using these values and allowing for exemptions, the tax roll is completed by the property appraiser and approved by the Florida Department of Revenue. The tax roll is then certified by the property appraiser to the tax collector who mails the tax notice/receipt to the owner’s last address of record. The owner of record is the owner as of Jan. 1 of the tax year. Each taxpayer must see that the taxes are paid and that a tax bill is received. In cases where the property owner pays their estimated real estate taxes through their mortgage company, the mortgage company should request the tax bill. The owner will receive an Informational Notice. Property owners should be aware that if their escrow account should be inadequate to support their taxes and insurance, the mortgage holder may require the owner to increase their monthly payment to meet the anticipated billings.
Tax statements are mailed on or about Nov. 1 of each year, with discounts in effect for early payment: A 4 percent discount is allowed for the first 30 days after the original mailing date; a 3 percent discount in December; a 2 percent discount in January; and a 1 percent discount in February with no discount in March. Taxes become delinquent April 1, at which time 3 percent interest plus advertising costs are added to the gross amount of the tax.
Questions regarding exemptions, changes in ownership or address, or property assessments should be directed to the Property Appraiser’s Office.
Taxpayers may choose to pay their real estate taxes quarterly by participating in an installment payment plan if the estimated taxes are in excess of $100. Those who qualify must fill out and return an Installment Plan application form to the Tax Collector’s Office or branch office prior to May 1. Upon meeting the first installment deadline, the taxpayer is then obligated to participate in the program for the entire year. Discounts do not apply to delinquent payments. Any amount remaining unpaid on April 1 is treated as a delinquent tax bill.
Real estate taxes become delinquent on April 1 each year. Florida Statutes require the tax collector to advertise the delinquent parcels in a local newspaper once a week for three consecutive weeks following the payment deadline. Advertising and collection fees are added to the delinquent taxpayer’s bill.
Beginning on or before June 1, the tax collector is required by law to hold a Tax Certificate Sale. The certificates represent liens on all unpaid real estate properties. The sale allows citizens to buy certificates by paying off the owed tax debt. The sale is conducted in reverse auction style with participants bidding downward on interest rates starting at 18 percent. The certificate is awarded to the lowest bidder.
A tax certificate, when purchased, becomes an enforceable first lien against the real estate. The certificate holder is actually paying the taxes for a property owner in exchange for a competitive bid rate of return on his investment. In order to remove the lien, the property owner must pay the tax collector all delinquent taxes plus accrued interest, penalties and advertising fees. The tax collector then notifies the certificate holder of any certificates redeemed and a refund check is then issued to the certificate holder.
A tax certificate is valid for seven years from the date of issuance. The holder may apply for a tax deed when two or more years have elapsed since the date of delinquency. If the property owner fails to pay the tax debt, the property tax deed is sold at public auction.
Tangible personal property tax is an ad valorem tax assessed against the furniture, fixtures and equipment located in businesses and rental property. It also applies to structural additions to mobile homes.
The Property Appraiser’s Office assesses the value of tangible personal property and presents a certified tax roll to the tax collector. It is the job of the tax collector to mail the tax notices and collect the monies due.
Tax bills for tangible personal property are mailed at the same time as the real estate tax bills, and the same discounts apply. Taxes become delinquent April 1, at which time 1.5 percent interest, plus a $2 late fee and advertising costs are added to the gross amount of tax.
Florida statutes require tax warrants to be issued prior to April 30 of the next year on all unpaid tangible personal property taxes. Within 30 days after the warrants are prepared, the tax collector applies to the circuit court for an order directing levy and seizure of the property for the amount of unpaid taxes and costs.
Any changes to the tax roll (name, address, location, assessed value) must be processed through the Property Appraiser’s Office.
Taxes assessed to railroads utilizing portions of land in Charlotte County are billed in the same manner as personal property taxes, and subject to the same delinquent collection methods.
Non-ad valorem assessments are based on the value or benefit to the property. Assessments become part of the gross tax when added to the amount derived from multiplying the taxable value by the millage rate or flat rate assessed.
The tourist tax is a 3 percent tax on the total rental amount collected from any person or other party who rents, leases, or lets for consideration living quarters or accommodations in hotels, motels, apartment motels, rooming houses, trailers, camps, mobile homes or condominiums for a period of six months or less. According to Florida law, the renting of such property is a privilege that is subject to taxation, and the requirements and conditions of that taxation are set forth by the state of Florida, as well as various governments within the state.
In addition, the tax collector serves as an agent of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In this capacity, the tax collector is responsible for the sale of a variety of hunting and fishing permits. It is the tax collector’s duty to collect all monies from these sales and maintain the records associated with these transactions.
Hunting and fishing licenses and permits may be obtained at the Tax Collector’s Office, various sport stores, bait and tackle shops and retail stores as designated by the tax collector, or they may be purchased via the Internet.
The county tax collector is responsible for the sale and issuance of vehicle license plates and renewal stickers. The renewal sticker denoting the owner’s birth month and year of expiration is placed in the upper right-hand corner of the tag. The license plate is displayed on the rear of the vehicle with the exception of certain commercial vehicles. The plate is issued to the owner for five years. The owner will receive a new plate (with new numbers and letters) during the fifth year.
Vehicles are registered on a staggered basis according to the registered owner’s birth month. The registration expires at midnight on the owner’s birthday. The only exceptions to this schedule are: company-owned vehicles and short-term leased vehicles are renewed in June; long-term leased vehicle renewals are staggered throughout the calendar year; truck tractors, semi-trailers and trucks weighing more than 5,000 pounds are renewed in December. Nine-passenger and over vehicles used for hire are also renewed in December. All vehicles are licensed according to weight. Travel trailers and mobile homes are licensed according to length.
Proof of insurance (binder, policy or card) from a certified Florida agent or broker is required to purchase and renew a license plate in Florida. The vehicle owner must present to the Tax Collector documentation of personal injury protection (PIP) in the amount of at least $10,000 and protection damage liability (PDL) insurance in the amount of $10,000. Motorcycles, mobile homes and trailers are exempt from the insurance requirement. Commercial trucks require additional insurance.
Reminder notices are mailed out approximately 30 days before your expiration date as a courtesy. Owners are encouraged to renew by mail. Renewal notices are mailed by the tax collector as a courtesy only. Late penalties and other fees will not be waived because of non-receipt of a renewal notice.
To help ensure that each registered owner receives a timely tag renewal notice, all changes of address must be reported to the Tax Collector’s Office within 20 days. The vehicle owner is required to provide the license plate number along with the address change report. It is the responsibility of each registered owner to ensure that the vehicle’s registration is kept current.
All motor vehicles being registered in Florida for the first time must have the vehicle identification number (VIN) verified. The Tax Collector’s Office will perform this service at the time of registration. The VIN can also be verified by any law enforcement officer, a Florida notary public or a Florida motor vehicle dealer. All used vehicles coming into Florida from a foreign country must have the VIN verified by a DMV compliance Examiner/Inspector prior to being titled.
Annual license taxes, for the operation of motor vehicles as defined by Florida Statutes, must be paid at the time of registration and renewal. All fees are subject to change by legislative act. The first time a license plate is purchased for a motor vehicle in Florida, a $100 initial registration fee may be imposed. This fee applies to private automobiles, motor homes and trucks less than 5,000 pounds.
To transfer a Florida Title, the seller must complete the transfer information on the current title, including the purchaser’s name, the selling price and the odometer reading at the time of the sale. A bill of sale may be submitted for proof of purchase price. Sales tax will be collected if applicable. All transfers of ownership must be completed within 30 days of the date the vehicle is assigned by the seller or a $10 fee is levied at the time of transfer.
An out-of-state title must be submitted as proof of ownership and if transfer of ownership is involved, it must be properly completed. An application for Florida Title must be completed and accompanied by verification of the vehicle identification number and odometer reading. Sales tax will be collected if applicable.
Finally, as an agent for the Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles, the tax collector must process motorboat titles and registrations, and issue a decal to be affixed to the vessel (port side). The owner must present a manufacturer’s certificate of origin from the dealer, or, if used, a title. If from a non-title state, the registration and a notarized bill of sale will suffice. Registration fees for both commercial and pleasure vessels are based on vessel length.
The cooperation and assistance of the Tax Collector and her staff is gratefully acknowledged.