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The bottom line: Improvements at Tax Collector's Office saving money

Posted 3/14/24

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The first thing you notice in Diane Hutchings’ office is her desk, bookcase and conference table. All are regal in both size and influence, each masterfully crafted from wood …

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The bottom line: Improvements at Tax Collector's Office saving money


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The first thing you notice in Diane Hutchings’ office is her desk, bookcase and conference table. All are regal in both size and influence, each masterfully crafted from wood to command a higher sense of attention.

But they were done on the cheap.

The one thing Hutchings hates most is spending money – especially other people’s money.

The conference table was found in a closet at the Tax Collector’s Office. Instead of buying a new one, she had it refinished. The desk and bookcase were purchased on Craig’s List for pennies on the dollar.

“We’re always working on ways to save time and money,” Hutchings said. “That way, we can be more efficient, especially as our county grows.”

Hutchings was elected in 2020 and immediately moved to automate the office. Clerks got second computer screens, so they didn’t have to constantly close one program to move to another. The office added a no-fee service to accept checks online and a tag renewal kiosk at the Publix Super Market at the Village Shopping Center in Orange Park.

“By adding the second screen, we sometimes reduced the amount of time they were on the phone by an hour, and we kept them from making repetitive keystrokes,” she said. “Before, it was just one monitor. They had to close the window, open a window, close a window, close a window. Now they just go.”

The main office at the County Administration Building offers a unique service for residents who have difficulty speaking English.

“We have a device called Pocketalk that we can use to set up a language and ask someone what they need, and it will ask them in their language,” Hutchings said. “When they respond, the answer is given back in English. It’s important for someone to feel comfortable. There’s no confusion. It saves time and eliminates mistakes.”

Hutchings likened the software to “Blockbuster Video” when she took over. The new software was expensive up front, but she said the time saved on the backside far offset the investment. She found that other Florida tax offices had saved “millions” over time with the new software, so she bought it.

“It was a no-brainer,” she said, “especially when you eliminate keystrokes and save hours of time.”

The Green Cove Springs office also uses a machine that opens, separates and catalogs checks for deposits. What used to take a half day now takes less than an hour.

After all, time is money.

The offices in Orange Park and Keystone Heights are in transition, too. Hutchings said the Park Central Plaza office will soon be relocated to the Challenge Enterprises Plaza at 500 Kingsley Ave.

“When ACE Hardware opened on Park Avenue, parking can be a little difficult at times,” Hutchings said. “There’s plenty of parking at Challenge, and it’s helping a great organization.”

Rent is also cheaper there.

The Keystone Heights office will soon move from Keystone Village Square on State Road 100 to the Clay County Health Department on Commercial Drive, where the rent is free since the county owns the building.

The Middleburg location has already been moved from Bear Run to the Grande Olde Plaza near the intersection of State Road 21 and County Road 218 to accommodate additional services and residents.

Last year, more than 100,000 residents visited one of the four offices for a transaction, including property taxes, driver’s, hunting and fishing licenses, motor vehicle registrations, birth certificates and concealed weapon permits. The offices accepted appointments, but walk-ins generally are in and out in less than 30 minutes.

Most of her staff are allowed to wear blue jeans on Friday because they participate in a CARES committee. They voluntarily donate $4 a month to a fund that’s used to pay for flowers when someone is sick or dies, or it’s used to pay for parties.

“We can’t use public money, so we build a little fund for things we need,” Hutchings said. “It creates an upbeat attitude. You’d be surprised what a big deal it is to be able to wear blue jeans.”

Employees also select a nonprofit to highlight in the lobbies of their offices. Since June 2021, they’ve turned over more than $31,000 to groups like the Quigley House, American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Research, Operation Barnabas, The Vineyard Transitional Center, Safe Animal Shelter, Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital and the Clay County Education Foundation.

“There’s a lot going on here,” Hutchings said.

All with a keen eye on the bottom line.