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Lee residents meet the incoming tax collector

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Dec 30, 2020

Incoming Lee County Tax Collector Noelle Branning speaks at the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 18.

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Noelle Branning will take over as Lee County Tax Collector at the start of the new year, yet even before she assumes the office, she is already making an imprint as to how the office will run.

That means you will see a lot of her, answering questions and letting residents know she is not looking to operate from an adversarial position.

Branning was at the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce meeting of Dec. 18 for a meet-and-greet with area residents as she gets ready to take over for retiring tax collector Larry Hart on Jan. 5.

“We want to get to know our community a little better and see what questions people have firsthand,” Branning said. “Right now, with tax season here, most people have questions about their tax bills. It gives us an opportunity to focus on customer education so we can explain the beauty of our system.”

Branning is doing this outreach with the help of Nadege Pierre, community outreach coordinator, who said it was a strategy to partner with the established Chambers of Commerce to get to know the business community.

“I think it’s great the Chamber is working with the Tax Collector’s Office. It’s always important for people to understand the way government works. Just because you get the tax bill in the mail it’s not her fault. She’s just tasked with collecting the money,” said John Gardner, Chamber president, to laughs inside the offices.

Branning made some brief remarks to those who came to meet her and answered some questions, some of which focused on how COVID would impact tax collection.

“We are agile and are making sure operations ensure the safety of our workforce and our customers. We installed glass at all out work stations and are monitoring lobby capacity,” Branning said. “At the end of the day awe are an essential service provider so we need to make sure people aren’t barred from access to government services.”

Branning said she expects to see problems collecting taxes from businesses, not a surprising question since many of those who came were local business people.

“I expect to hear more about the business impacts in the next year. Tangible personal property taxes is what businesses are faced with because they are assessed as of Jan. 1,” Branning said. “I imagine businesses that weren’t able to survive will be impacted if there was a tax bill.”

She said she expects to see more impacts from the housing market and ad-valorem taxes as we head toward 2022.

She also wants to use technology to bring the tax- paying experience closer to the residents. She plans to place self-serve kiosks throughout the community rather than make people come to the office. She also wants to make the website more user friendly.

Branning has worked with the Lee County Tax Collector’s Office since 2013, first as general counsel, then as chief deputy tax collector. She was voted into the job, running unopposed.

Before that, she worked with the State Attorney’s Office of the 20th Judicial Circuit and then focused on handling criminal defense and family law.

“I am excited to have this opportunity to serve Lee County and I look forward to all the things that are going to unfold over the next year,” Branning said. “We want people to be informed about the process.”