Hernando Tax Collector
By JOY DAVIS-PLATT
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's election, Hernando County will have a new tax collector after voters choose between the Democratic and Republican candidates.
Current tax collector Leona Bechtelheimer plans to retire when her term ends in December. She has been tax collector since 1976.
Juanita Sikes, her sister and longtime assistant, will replace Bechtelheimer on the Democratic ticket. Sikes, who was unopposed in the primary, faces Republican challenger Garry Allen, who defeated John Kouba in the primary.
With the tax collector's office comes a customer base of about 125,000 people, two offices, 32 employees and a $1.4-million budget. In light of an expected population boom after the opening of the Suncoast Parkway in 2001, both candidates say meeting the anticipated increase in demand for services is the biggest challenge facing the office.
Allen, the county's technology services director, has experience with updating tax collection systems. In 1981, he wrote the first computer program to organize the county's tax rolls.
"Technology and innovation are tools that give us new ways to solve problems," said Allen. "You always have to be looking for a better way of doing things."
Just because a system has worked for 20 years, Allen said, doesn't mean it is the most efficient way.
Both the Spring Hill and Brooksville tax offices suffer from limited space and parking, he said. By increasing the hours of operation and adding Internet self-service, he said, the county can delay the addition of more staff, office space and overhead.
"I think my technical background and my open-mindedness are my two best assets for finding new solutions," Allen said.
Sikes has worked in the tax collector's office for 27 years -- longer than Bechtelheimer -- and has been No. 2 in command for about 22 years as the office's tax and operations services director.
"I started at the bottom, and over the years I've worked my way through all the departments," Sikes said. "I feel that makes me the most well-rounded and well-informed candidate."
Hernando County's expected population boom certainly will affect how the tax collector's office functions, said Sikes. And as the county adds new residents, the office will make strides to deal with it, she said.
"I think we were prepared then (for past growth), and, as we advance, we will be prepared for the future," she said.
By the middle of next year, for instance, Sikes said, the state of Florida will make motor vehicle registration available on the Internet.
"I see no reason to spend local tax dollars on something the state has already been mandated to do," she said.
The tax collector receives revenue from hunting and fishing licenses, automobile tags, sales tax on cars and boats, boat registrations and property taxes. The tax collector serves a four-year term and will earn an annual salary of $100,071.
GARRY R. ALLEN, 40, is Hernando County government's technology services director. He lives in Brooksville with his wife and two children. He is a graduate of Hernando High School and attended the University of South Florida for three years. He has lived in the county since 1967 and worked for the county since 1979. He is a member of the Hernando Masonic Lodge. ASSETS: rental property, loans receivable, mutual funds, savings. LIABILITIES: loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: salary, interest income. E-MAIL: email@example.com. WEB SITE: http://www.garryallen.com.
JUANITA B. SIKES, 47, has worked in the Hernando County Tax Collector's Office for 27 years and serves as director of tax and operations services. She lives in Brooksville with her husband and has two grown children. She is a graduate of Hernando High School and has an associate's degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College. She is a lifelong resident of Brooksville. She is a former board member of the Hernando County Education Foundation and former state director of the Hernando County Cattlemen's Association. She is treasurer of the Junior Service League of Brooksville, a committee member for the Hernando County Rodeo and Barbecue Festival, a member of the Democratic Executive Committee, the Democratic Club of Hernando and the Democratic Women's Club of Hernando. ASSETS: certificates of deposit, life insurance policy, savings. LIABILITIES: loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: salary, capital gains. E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org. WEB SITE: http://www.jsikes.com.
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