03/30/16: It’s the end of an era – Beloved Pinellas County Tax Collector, Diane Nelson, announces retirement

DianeWebFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2016
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Brenna Haggar, Manager of Public Affairs
727-902-9666 or 727-464-3098 or bhaggar@taxcollect.com

It’s the end of an era

Beloved Pinellas County Tax Collector, Diane Nelson, announces retirement

CLEARWATER, FLORIDA, MARCH 30, 2016 – After nearly 47 years of working in the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office, Diane Nelson, Tax Collector, has made the decision to retire at the end of 2016. She will not seek a fifth term in office.

“It has been a difficult decision for me because I still love my job and serving the residents of Pinellas County,” said Ms. Nelson. “However, my husband decided to retire early next year, and we made this decision together. This is a good time for both of us to start the next leg of our journey.”

Diane began her career at the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office in April 1969. She started on the front lines as a part-time tax collector employee working at the First National Bank in Tarpon Springs. The bank was open on Tuesdays and Thursdays to serve the public in the northern part of the county. In 1977, Ms. Nelson was promoted to Manager of the Clearwater office and oversaw the processing of all tax collector mail and hundreds of thousands of phone calls. In 1994, Tax Collector Fred Petty promoted Diane to Director of five offices where all mail and phone operations were placed under her direction. It was then she recognized the need for a dedicated training team to ensure that the public was given correct information consistently.

In 2000, after 31 years of working in the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office, Mrs. Nelson retired so that she could run for Tax Collector. Her primary campaign promise was to answer phones with real people which she implemented within the first three months of taking office. To this day, customers still tell her how much they appreciate having a real person assist them on the phone.

Under Ms. Nelson’s leadership, the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office has thrived. Since she has been Tax Collector, the Office has taken on responsibility for all driver license services in Pinellas County, modernized property tax billing and collections, expanded online services, began issuing birth certificates and concealed weapon licenses, grown and modernized tourist development tax collection, became the first self-administering county in Florida to negotiate a deal with Airbnb to collect tourist taxes from its host families, and implemented the Kids Tag Art Pinellas program. In addition to service expansion, the Pinellas County Tax Collector team has become actively involved in the Florida Tax Collectors Association. Diane was selected by her peers to serve as President of the Association for the 2013/2014 term. During her term as President, Ms. Nelson worked to bring her 15-year vision of partnering with the Department of Agriculture to issue concealed weapons licenses to fruition. She knew it would be a good fit for tax collectors because they are proficient at managing complex paperwork, taking pictures, and fingerprinting, which they do on a daily basis for commercial driver licenses.

Also, Ms. Nelson pushed the organization to increase efficiencies, which resulted in being the recipient of the 2013 Governor’s Sterling Award for performance excellence. The Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office recently submitted their application for the 2016 Governor’s Sustained Excellence Award. They hope to be awarded this prestigious honor.

Diane strongly believes that you should leave office when you feel you have accomplished the things you wanted to and when you are at the height of your performance. Ms. Nelson changed the culture of the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office by making sure that providing excellent customer service was of paramount importance throughout the organization. She has always been a firm believer that her employees should treat customers the way they would want to be treated by having a professional yet friendly demeanor and by providing excellent service. For Diane, this and many other things have been achieved, and it is time to turn the page on another chapter of her life.

In retirement, Ms. Nelson and her husband are excited to check a few things off their bucket list. They plan on visiting Mount Rushmore, viewing the northern lights, seeing the large redwoods in California, and renting homes in various European countries for a few months so they can mingle with the people and their culture.

“After almost half of a century of public service, it has been my honor and pleasure to serve the residents of Pinellas County,” said Diane Nelson, Pinellas County’s first woman Tax Collector.

Click here download a print version of the attached photo.

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ABOUT THE PINELLAS COUNTY TAX COLLECTOR’S OFFICE: The Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office is a constitutionally elected office. Responsibilities include collecting and distributing state and local taxes and providing driver license and motor vehicle registration services to Pinellas County residents. The Office received the 2013 Governor’s Sterling Award for performance excellence. For more information visit taxcollect.com/newsroom.

Diane’s Legacy

After nearly 47 years of working in the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office, Diane Nelson, Tax Collector, has made the decision to retire at the end of 2016. She will not seek a fifth term in office.

“It has been a difficult decision for me because I still love my job and serving the residents of Pinellas County,” said Ms. Nelson. “However, my husband decided to retire early next year, and we made this decision together. This is a good time for both of us to start the next leg of our journey.”

Diane began her career at the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office in April 1969. She started on the front lines as a part-time tax collector employee working at the First National Bank in Tarpon Springs. The bank was open on Tuesdays and Thursdays to serve the public in the northern part of the county.

Ms. Nelson recalls the long lines around the Clearwater Courthouse when the main tax collector’s office was located in the basement. At that time, license plates were made of steel and everyone was issued a new plate between July 1 and August 20 of each year. Temporary locations were opened at various banks and AAA offices to help alleviate customer traffic. Mr. Jasper, the Tax Collector at that time, made the decision to open an office in the Caladesi Bank of Dunedin where Diane became a Tax Collector Supervisor. Like they do today, prisoners were responsible for manufacturing all Florida license plates, and Ms. Nelson remembers the year they went on strike. Motorists would come to the offices only to find out that the tag offices had no plates to issue. “It got very tense and made for long lines during the hot months of July and August,” Ms. Nelson said. “The media helped us get through that difficult summer by spreading the word about the strike and shortage of license plates.” Around 1976, legislation passed that allowed the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to change registration renewals to the staggered system we know today where registrations and license plate decals expire on your birthday.

In 1977, Ms. Nelson was promoted to Manager of the Clearwater office and oversaw the processing of all tax collector mail and hundreds of thousands of phone calls. In 1994, Tax Collector Fred Petty promoted Diane to Director over five offices where all mail and phone operations were placed under her direction. It was then she recognized the need for a dedicated training team to ensure that the public was given correct information consistently.

In 2000, after 31 years of working in the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office, Mrs. Nelson retired so that she could run for Tax Collector. Her primary campaign promise was to answer phones with real people, which she implemented within the first three months of taking office. To this day, customers still tell her how much they appreciate having a real person assist them on the phone.

Ms. Nelson has served on many state committees and says one of her biggest challenges was acting as the liaison between the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Florida Tax Collectors Association after the Real ID Act of 2005 was passed. In Diane’s opinion, the driver license program is probably the most complicated service any tax collector’s office administers. By 2010, Florida tax collectors had to be prepared to issue Real ID compliant driver licenses and identification cards as the responsibility for driver license services transitioned from state offices to local tax collectors. The Federal Real ID Act requires all residents applying for and renewing their driver license or ID card to provide proof of identity and Florida residency. Working with the state, they put together a 5-year plan in which all tax collectors would take on the additional responsibility of issuing driver licenses and identification cards. Even though it was initially a challenge, tax collectors knew that issuing driver licenses in conjunction with motor vehicle services was the right thing to do because the public benefited from streamlined services and increased cost efficiencies.

“Another challenging project was moving from an antiquated tax collection program to modern technology which allowed my staff to serve the public in a much more efficient manner,” said Ms. Nelson. “This new technology allows the public access to hundreds of thousands of records and online payment options from the convenience of their home. Also, our new website is intuitive and mobile friendly. It allows you to check the wait times in our offices, as well as, make appointments. Two years ago, I approached Senator Latvala and asked him if he would sponsor legislation that exempted taxpayer e-mail address from public records requests. This law provides consumer protection while allowing taxpayers to receive their tax bill electronically.”

In 2013, the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office received the Florida Governor’s Sterling Award, Florida’s top honor for performance excellence. Since taking office in 2001, Ms. Nelson has initiated many changes and Diane is extremely proud of her team members for welcoming these numerous changes over the last 15 years. She believes the residents of Pinellas County are the true recipient of this award as it has made Ms. Nelson and her employees thoroughly review their processes and increase efficiencies. In addition to receiving the Governor’s 2013 Sterling Award, the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office recently applied for the Florida Governor’s Sterling Sustained Excellence Award. They hope to be awarded this prestigious honor in 2016.

In August of 2015, Ms. Nelson proudly kicked off the Kids Tag Art Pinellas program, which is a partnership between the Tax Collector’s Office and Pinellas County Schools. She said that it is the most rewarding community program she has developed during her years at the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office. While 2015/2016 was a pilot program, 38 schools participated and over $55,000 was raised to support arts education. Proceeds were distributed to participating schools to be used as supplemental funding for art supplies and projects. Also, $1 from the sale of each tag is being given to the St. Petersburg College Foundation’s “I AM 4 ART, U CAN B 2” Fine Arts Scholarship. During this pilot, one of the participating students designed a plate that said, “Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him.” Because this creative child used art to communicate the dangers of distracted driving, a campaign is being developed in partnership between the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, and AT&T to educate residents about the dangers of texting and driving.  It is scheduled to debut this summer in all Tax Collector offices. In the upcoming 2016/2017 school year, all 5th-grade students in approximately 90 schools will be able to participate.

Under Ms. Nelson’s leadership, the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office has thrived. Since she has been Tax Collector, the Office has taken on responsibility for all driver license services in Pinellas County, modernized property tax billing and collections, expanded online services, began issuing birth certificates and concealed weapon licenses, grown and modernized tourist development tax collection, became the first self-administering county in Florida to negotiate a deal with Airbnb to collect tourist taxes from its host families, and implemented the Kids Tag Art Pinellas program. In addition to service expansion, the Pinellas County Tax Collector team has become actively involved in the Florida Tax Collectors Association. Diane was selected by her peers to serve as President of the Association for the 2013/2014 term. During her term as President, Ms. Nelson worked to bring her 15-year vision of partnering with the Department of Agriculture to issue concealed weapons licenses to fruition. She knew it would be a good fit for tax collectors because they are proficient at managing complex paperwork, taking pictures, and fingerprinting, which they do on a daily basis for commercial driver licenses.

Diane strongly believes that you should leave office when you feel you have accomplished the things you wanted to and when you are at the height of your performance. Ms. Nelson changed the culture of the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office by making sure that providing excellent customer service was of paramount importance throughout the organization. She has always been a firm believer that her employees should treat customers the way they would want to be treated by having a professional yet friendly demeanor and by providing world-class service. For Diane, this and many other things have been achieved, and it is time to turn the page on another chapter of her life.

Diane’s employees fondly remember how she introduces herself to residents, she almost always says, “Hello, I’m Diane Nelson, your friendly Tax Collector.” They say that she has never met a stranger.

In retirement, Ms. Nelson and her husband are excited to check a few things off their bucket list. They plan on visiting Mount Rushmore, viewing the northern lights, seeing the large redwoods in California, and renting homes in various European countries for a few months so they can mingle with the people and their culture.

“After almost half of a century of public service, it has been my honor and pleasure to serve the residents of Pinellas County,” said Diane Nelson, Pinellas County’s first woman Tax Collector.

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