LAKEWOOD RANCH -- No one would argue that a visit to the tax collector's office is as much fun as a visit to a theme park. But there is a similarity.
It matters when you visit.
Knowing when to visit and what times to avoid can make a big difference in quickly getting in and out, and minimizing frustration.
In that regard, "we're no different than a theme park," said Ken Burton Jr., Manatee County tax collector.
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On a recent Friday during lunch hour at the Lakewood Ranch office, customers waited about 30 minutes to see a clerk to take care of their business. An overhead screen in the office showed the wait times at each of the four Manatee tax collector offices, and the wait time was much shorter at the DeSoto, Palma Sola and Ellenton offices.
Tuesday morning, it was a different story.
Two of the offices -- DeSoto and North River -- had
three customers waiting, and the last customers had been served in between six and 10 minutes.
Lakewood Ranch had only one customer waiting, and the last customer had been served in three minutes.
Palma Sola had no customers waiting, and the last customer had been served in two minutes.
Numbers like that please Burton, whose goal is to serve each customer in 12 minutes or less. This past year, the Tax Collector's Office met that goal 95 to 96 percent of the time, he said.
Based on customer service surveys, customers want, No. 1, to get in and out fast; No. 2, to have a knowledgeable representative serve them; and No. 3, to be treated in a friendly way, Burton said.
To achieve the goal of quickly getting in and out of the Tax Collector's Office, Burton suggests avoiding the office 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., which sees a bump in traffic due to lunch hour visits, and the day before and after holidays.
But traffic can spike for no apparent reason.
"It's just this crazy anomaly," Burton said.
Then, too, some transactions are complex, such as for persons who have just moved into the state.
"No two are exactly the same," he said.
Customers are not exactly powerless in managing their wait time. They can:
n Check wait times at the Tax Collector's web site, taxcollector.com/qmatic.cfm, to decide which office they want to visit
n Schedule an appointment to process title work or obtain a driver license by calling 941-741-4800
n Text "wait" to 41411 to see the number of customers in each Tax Collector lobby.
Burton opened the Lakewood Ranch office at 6007 111th St. E. on July 14, 2005, to serve the county's fast-growing area. He recently added another staff member there to keep pace with growing activity.
Tuesday, the parking lot outside the Lakewood Ranch branch of the Tax Collector's Office stayed busy with departing and arriving customers.
"Not too bad," Bryan McClain said as he put a new sticker on his license plate. "It was about two minutes with the clerk, and about 20 minutes overall."
Another customer had also stopped by at the Lakewood Ranch office at 12:30 p.m., the height of the lunch hour rush, and the day after a holiday.
"It's about what I expected," he said of his 20-minute wait.
Perhaps his pain was alleviated by a peek at the monitor in the lobby that said the most recent customer at Palma Sola had been served in 34 minutes.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.