On Tuesday, Pinellas County's tax collector started waiving a $6.25 processing fee for state ID cards for the homeless.
The move follows criticism of Tax Collector Diane Nelson's declaration in April that she would take a year to study a request to kill the fee from social service agencies who said it hampered homeless people's access to jobs, housing and more.
Nelson's office said in February that it couldn't afford to waive the fee. It changed tack in April, saying it would spend a year studying transaction patterns before deciding whether to issue the IDs to the homeless for free.
Just five months later, Nelson says her research has shown that far fewer transients — about 125 a month, or 1,500 a year — come in for IDs than the original annual projection of 5,000.
Nelson said her office has downsized over the years from 295 to 265 employees as part of a countywide push to cut expenses during the recession. Waiving fees for 5,000 people, she said, would have cost $31,250 — the equivalent of a full-time employee.
Waiving the charge for about 125 people a month works out to less than $9,400 a year.
"I think it's my job to serve everyone and it makes me happy to see it's not that much of an impact," Nelson said Monday.
The decision elicited a big "woo hoo!" from Jane Walker, executive director of Daystar Life Center in St. Petersburg.
Walker is among Pinellas Homeless Leadership Board supporters who complained that a recent state law waiving the $25 cost for the IDs didn't go far enough because it still let county tax collectors, who issue the cards, charge a processing fee of $6.25.
Social service advocates said the charge quickly adds up for transients, who constantly must change their address as they shuffle among temporary housing or whose IDs are illegally confiscated by police because of failure to update that information.
"It's critical," Walker said. "You can't get back on your feet if you don't have an ID in our society."