By JOY DAVIS-PLATT
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000
BROOKSVILLE -- Democrat Juanita Sikes will succeed her sister as Hernando County tax collector.
Tax Collector Leona Bechtelheimer will retire after 24 years in December.
The past few weeks of Sikes' campaign were spent waving signs on busy street corners, knocking on doors and calling constituents, she said.
"I have calluses on my fingers from dialing numbers," she said at a party that resembled a family reunion. "It has been a lot of work."
As her campaign platform stated, Sikes said she will run the office with a personal touch. In the face of her sizable lead, Sikes' Republican opponent, Garry Allen, 40, conceded less than an hour after polls closed. Plans are to regroup, said Allen, who spent the evening at Republican Party headquarters in Brooksville.
"It's gone," said Allen, director of the county's Technology Services Department. "We gave it our best shot."
Since she began at the Hernando County Tax Collector's Office 27 years ago, Sikes, 47, has done everything from waiting on customers at the front desk, to validating the tax roll, to the office budget. She now serves as director of tax and operations services in the office.
Her nearly three decades in the office have been full of changes, Sikes said. Workers have gone from validating and typing tax bills by hand to an automated system. For that reason, impending growth in Hernando County doesn't scare her, she said.
A key issue during the campaign was the hours of operation for the Spring Hill office: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Allen called these hours inconvenient for working taxpayers.
Sikes said the hours in Spring Hill coincide with the sheriff's substation next door. Keeping the office open without adequate security, she said, poses a serious risk.
A related issue was the annual office budget surplus from which Allen suggested paying for additional security.
Sikes said the surplus shows the fiscal responsibility.