HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — For the first time in more than 20 years, Hillsborough County voters will elect a new tax collector.
With Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden choosing not to run for re-election, it opens the door for a new face. Tuesday's primary election marks the first step, with Democratic candidates April Griffin and Nancy Millan vying for the position.
Earlier this year, I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern found the Hillsborough County Tax Collector failed to collect more than $800,000 in business taxes.
Bank of America was among the roughly 12,000 Hillsborough County businesses that failed to pay up.
In March, Belden acknowledged that businesses paying business taxes in Hillsborough County basically amounts to an honor system.
When the I-Team asked Belden if it's a problem that people aren't paying business taxes, the tax collector said, "Either they pay or they don’t pay. I can’t enforce them to pay, you know, I can’t do anything. All I can do is – here’s what you owe, we send out a reminder notice and we’re done."
Belden's stance did not sit well with Griffin.
"When I saw that, I heard our current tax collector say that it's an honor system, and I just -- I just remember shaking my head. We have to have processes in place that track that. First, they’ll have to be audited to see if people are compliant, but then to put a system in place that tracks those business taxes on a regular basis," said Griffin. "That’s money that’s being left on the table, that could go to serving this community."
Griffin served on the Hillsborough County School Board for 12 years until 2018.
“What makes you qualified to be Hillsborough County’s tax collector, since this is not your background?" asked I-Team's McGivern.
“I have a degree in organizational studies, I’ve served this community as an elected official, so I understand the constituency services and that’s what this office is about, is customer service, it’s about serving the people that elect the tax collector," Griffin responded.
Day 1 in the office, what would be Griffin's top priority?
“Audits are going to be the first thing, then looking at the processes that are in place," she said.
Griffin told the I-Team she wants to expand office hours, improve and expand online services, and set up a fleet of mobile offices to reach under-served communities.
“I worry about the status quo being maintained. Because there, I think, are some blind spots with the leadership of that organization that they are a well-oiled machine," said Griffin. "That’s why I’m running so hard. Is because I do see that blind spot.”
Millan is running against Griffin in Tuesday's primary. Millan has worked at the Hillsborough County Tax Collector's office for more than 30 years and currently serves as the Director of Community Relations.
Millan agreed to an interview last week but then canceled the day before. She has not returned multiple phone calls, texts or emails since, including a list of emailed questions about her vision for the office.
Belden has endorsed Millan.
In a statement, Belden wrote the I-Team:
"When Nancy first announced that she was going to run, I strongly endorsed her and gave her my full support. She has been with our office 30 years and worked with me for 22 years. She is by far the most qualified to carry on the many accomplishments our office has made. For well over 15 years and hundreds of thousands of comment cards, we have maintained a good and excellent customer satisfaction rate of 97%. We are recognized as one of the most efficient and customer-friendly agencies in both local and State Government."
The winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary will face off in the general election against Republican candidate TK Mathew. He's also a former employee of the tax collector's office.