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East County Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2022 2 months ago

New tax collector’s office planned for Lakewood Ranch

The bigger office will have 45 service stations as compared to the current seven in Lakewood Ranch.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

Plans for a new Manatee County Tax Collector office in Lakewood Ranch have moved to the permitting stage.

Manatee County Tax Collector Ken Burton said the larger, more modern office at 10705 Technology Terrace, is targeted for an opening early in 2024. It will coincide with the closing of the current office at 6007 11th St. E.

The opening of the 44th Avenue extension through Lakewood Ranch about the same time will make the new location very accessible.

“Strategically, it's a great spot, and it's going to be designed with things we've learned here,” Burton said of the new office. “We always try to make them better and improved.”

At 15,206 square feet, bigger will be one improved quality for the new Manatee County Tax Collector office. Forty-five service stations are planned, with about 25 of those operated by in-person workers. The other 20 will be automated self-service stations. The current Lakewood Ranch office has seven in-person stations and five automated self-service stations.

Burton said the Lakewood Ranch office was in "dire need" of renovation. Ultimately, it was decided that a new office would be more frugal than renovation. He noted the tax collector's office is the only government entity most citizens come into contact with on a recurring basis.

"People have to deal with the tax collector," he said. "We’re the retail side of government, so we’ve got to have our doors open."

He said the original Lakewood Ranch office was built to handle the expected population over a 20-year period.

“It's been almost 20 years, and we're slammed full out there,” he said of the current office.

Burton said the new office’s location was ideal, as it is in a central area in the county, population-wise. He said in the 1970s, downtown Bradenton would have been the central point of Manatee County, but is no longer the case, with so much of the growth taking place in the east.

One major change in the design of the new office is that the waiting room will be separated from the workers' stations. Burton said the idea is not to have people staring at the employees while they are processing documents.

He said the new design also provides enhanced security as visitors don't have to worry about their documents being exposed to others, especially those with Social Security numbers or Driver's License numbers.

The separate waiting room currently is being used at the DeSoto office.

“It’s been well received, and it's just a good thing,” Burton said. “We're just trying to get better at what we do.”

He said he is most excited that the new office will be able to process more customers faster.

Mandie Ferguson, director of communications for the Manatee County Tax Collector, said the average wait times are currently less than 12 minutes, but the tax collector’s office was looking to be proactive to make sure those don't increase with area growth.

Out-of-state vehicle transfers, she said, take significantly longer to process due to the amount of paperwork involved, and with so many people moving to Florida, that contributes to wait times. She said vehicle transactions will also usually involve families with multiple vehicles, and multiple people registering.

While people can do their transactions online, Ferguson said many residents still want to do their transactions at an office where they can speak to a worker.

“If you want to come in, you're more than welcome," Burton said. "But it helps us provide better customer service if you don't. It keeps our wait times down, so we try to encourage people to use our online services.”

All services currently available at Lakewood Ranch will be available at the new office. A newly available service that currently is not offered at Lakewood Ranch will be concealed weapons permitting. Ferguson said there are also additional services under discussion for the new office.

Burton said he is excited to watch current employees become involved with the new project.

“That gets me excited to see (the current employees) come up with new and innovative ideas to make it the best experience for the customer."

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