TAMPA — Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden is apologizing — just in case.
"For the past 10 years, 95 percent or more of our customers have rated our service either good or excellent and our wait times have historically averaged below 15 minutes," he wrote in a letter to the Times. "But two new developments threaten our commitment to customer service excellence and I want to let you know what I'm doing about it."
Those threats? Two state laws.
One requires motorists to produce more documents to get driver's licenses. The other makes county tax collectors take over all state-operated driver's license offices by 2015.
Belden says the first law, anti-terrorism legislation required by the federal government, has resulted in longer wait times. He said the second law means his office will be serving an extra 275,000 customers a year by the time all the state offices close.
Belden, who is up for re-election next year, is kicking off a publicity blitz about his response plan, which includes hiring eight more people, training his current staff in driver's license services and expanding current branch offices.
He's now offering driver's license services at a new location on University Center Drive and at the downtown office.
"I wanted people to know what we're doing to deal with all this," he said in an interview.
Belden said he has no price tag, but expects to cover the costs within his budget. His office's revenue comes from fees and commission on property tax collections.
The Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety plans to close all 57 of its offices statewide before 2015, said spokeswoman Ann Howard. The state operates four sites in Hillsborough.
Tax collectors in some counties, including Pinellas, already had taken over most driver's license services. Tax collectors charge an additional $6.25 on motor vehicle fees.
In Pinellas, the one state-operated driver's license site is set to close next June. Tax Collector Diane Nelson said she began taking over driver's license services about a decade ago.
She said it's been a service that she has to subsidize with other revenue. The $6.25 surcharge "is not enough, I can tell you that."
Belden said that's part of his beef: That his office is having to take over a state responsibility.
"The bottom line is they're passing an unfunded mandate," he said.
Reach Jodie Tillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.