NEW PORT RICHEY — The title and registration fees generated each time a car buyer leaves a dealer lot didn't seem to matter much to former Pasco Tax Collector Mike Olson.
Now that Mike Fasano is the county's tax collector, those fees mean a great deal. He can't fathom why they weren't collected in the first place, and why most of the money they generate — which can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — is being sent to tax collectors outside Pasco.
That money is important as the county struggles to hold down property taxes while maintaining services like its elderly nutrition program. Last week, officials learned the federal government is trimming its subsidy for the meals by $40,000, leaving the county to make up the difference.
"The bottom line is, our job is to collect the taxes and fees that are generated in Pasco," said Fasano. "For some reason, I don't know why, that wasn't happening here."
Fasano discovered the lapse after resigning as a state lawmaker and becoming tax collector Aug. 7 following Olson's death. The issue with the fees, he said, stems from a state law that allows private vendors to process title and registration paperwork for new vehicles and send it electronically to the state Department of Revenue and to county tax collectors.
The system is meant to speed the processing, which previously was done by hand, and quickly remit the fees to the agencies and vendors. For the counties, it's $2.50 per registration and $4.25 per title.
But the vendors, or private tag agencies as they're known, aren't required by law to send the fees they collect to the counties where the sale originated. Many opt to remit them to the counties where they're headquartered.
As a result, thousands of dollars generated in Pasco are being sent to tax collectors elsewhere.
Fasano is trying to change that. This week he sent 125 letters to local dealers asking them to talk to their tag agencies and request the fees go to Pasco. He's also talking with tax collectors around the state about setting up agreements, so that fees collected by them for transactions in Pasco are also remitted here.
Hillsborough's tax collector, Doug Belden, said he supports the idea. Belden said he approached Olson about a similar arrangement, but for some reason Olson never approved it.
"We do this with everybody who has a dealership outside the county," Belden said. "It happens all across the state of Florida. It's nothing new."
Pinellas' tax collector, Diane Nelson, said she's also open to the idea and already has an agreement in place with Hillsborough.
Palm Beach supports it as well, but in a letter to Fasano said it would remit only half the amount collected, which Fasano said is "unacceptable." He said he's still negotiating with the tax collector there.
Fasano isn't sure how much money is available but said it likely runs into the hundreds of thousands yearly and extends to motorcycle and boat sales.
This is important, he said, because any excess funds are sent to the county in the form of refunds.
That money, which can't be recovered retroactively, could have helped as the county works to pass a budget for next year. In addition to the nutrition program, the county is struggling to find funds for the Sheriff's Office to add more jail staff.
This year, Fasano's office will remit about $2.8 million to the county.
Tom Castriota, who owns car dealerships in Hudson and Port Richey, said he's already talked with his tag agency and will bring the issue up with fellow Pasco dealers when they gather for a meeting this month.
Castriota said his Chevrolet dealerships sell about 3,000 cars yearly. The fees on those transactions alone — the amount to be sent to Pasco — would have come to about $20,000.
"I think that for any of the Pasco dealers, the majority of our consumers live here and that we should keep that money here in the county," he said.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.