by Mike Sharkey
For eight years Jim Overton enjoyed the limelight as a member of the Jacksonville City Council and the spotlight that came with a year as Council president. Today, he’s well into his second year as Duval County Property Appraiser, a Constitutional position that doesn’t garner many headlines but is vitally important to the financial well-being of the city as a whole.
“Property tax is the broadest, fairest contribution to the City’s revenue stream” said Overton. “Our job is to make sure it’s equitable.”
Overton seems perfectly suited for the job. He’s a businessman who spent eight years learning how the legislative branch of government works and now he’s learning a whole new facet of public service. On July 1, 2003, Overton started the job he inherited from Ernie Mastrioanni, who chose not to seek a fifth term. So far, so good.
“It’s a great job and it’s technically very interesting,” said Overton. “It’s a nice size organization with about 120 people. It’s not too big to not know everyone’s name and things like birthdays.”
Unlike Council, one of the first things Overton noticed about the job was its similarity to a private sector job. He says the office is more like a big appraisal shop than anything else. As a Council member, Overton was forced to familiarize himself with virtually everything going on in the entire city from land use issues to signage downtown. As Property Appraiser, his job is to assure property is assessed in accordance with Florida law (every three years, at minimum) and pass those assessments to the tax payers in a fair and equitable way.
One thing that Overton learned quickly that was similar to being on Council is that no matter what your decisions are, someone is going to be occasionally upset.
“There are those that I have upset. We sue people and we get sued. My job is to be a good, neutral public servant. This is not a political job. It’s completely different from Council,” said Overton, who admitted he misses representing his district. “I miss being in the middle of the fight.”
Overton said his first few months in office were used as time to get to know the job and the people in the office. Eventually, he started to implement changes.
“After a while, it was evident there needed to be some reorganization, which is typical of new management,” said Overton. “One of the first things we did was move the tangible tax division out from under the community division. Fran Beech, my opponent in the race, is running that division.”
Overton also restored an element of professionalism in the office that had slowly eroded. For years, appraisers used their private vehicles and wore street clothes while out in the field. Today, they drive City-issued vehicles and wear shirts identifying them as employees of the Property Appraiser’s Office. Appraisers are expected to get to 15-20 residential properties a day. They also have radios and managers so, as Overton puts it, “someone is always watching the store.”
Another area of concern for Overton was customer service. That department used to be in a back section of the building and there was a “cattle herding” mentality. The department was physically moved within the Yates Building and an emphasis has been placed on courteous interaction with the customer.
“Customers can come in and get waited on immediately,” said Overton, who is working on various Florida appraiser certifications and is active in the Florida Association of Property Appraisers. “We installed a new phone system and you can now get to a human being with the push of one button. Also, our web site is great and it’s the most-used link on the City’s site. The data is updated every few days.”
Overton plans to institute several other changes and new programs. He has implemented a pay-for-performance initiative designed to reward employees based on what and how much they accomplish as opposed to simply showing up for work. He has reclassified the entire office and he encourages employees to seek City-funded educational opportunities.
“There are pay incentives for those that get certifications,” said Overton.
All of this may prove beneficial down the line, especially if it’s successful and he’s able to keep the number of people his office irks to a minimum because, just like in 2003, he’ll be asking for votes again in a couple of years. The next local primaries are set for April of 2007.
“About a year out, I’ll start worrying about reelection,” said Overton. “I hope that by then I will have proven I can do the job. My goal is to have the public trust us.”