For Sam C. Steele, becoming the Monroe County tax collector was a top goal upon his arrival in the office in 2017. Fast forward to 2021: the 33-year-old was recently sworn in as the top tax official.
“They said if you’re young, you don’t have the experience. But I beg to differ,” Steele said. “I think it’s quite an accomplishment. I look at Attorney General Ashley Moody, who became the youngest judge at 32. That’s an inspiration.”
Sworn into office on Jan. 5 at the Freeman Justice Center in Key West by the Hon. Tim J. Koenig, Steele was joined by his wife, Lauren, 3-year-old son, Carter, and Audrey, who turns 1 later this month. He now leads an office with branches from Key Largo to Key West, which handle everything from property taxes and concealed weapon permits to motorist services and transient rental fraud complaints.
“It was one of the most incredible experiences. It’s an honor and a privilege,” Steele said regarding the ceremony. “I wish it could have been a large ceremony, having the employees come and more people attend. But given the situation, I was glad I was able to get sworn in in person.”
Steele served as tax manager before deciding to run for tax collector in June 2019, following news that tax collector of 31 years, Danise “DeeDee” Henriquez, would seek another county office. Henriquez ended up retiring as tax collector on Aug. 21.
With the office up for election, Aileen Galvan, director of operations at the tax collector’s office, also jumped into the race. She later ended her campaign, leaving Steele, a Republican, as the only candidate.
“The friendships and bonds that were created along the way are invaluable,” Steele said. “I kept focused on the finish line.”
Steele’s a Florida State University graduate who was introduced to the Keys by his wife 10 years ago. He lives with his family in Key West.
Before becoming a county employee, Steele was a commercial real estate appraiser for Cushman & Wakefield from 2013-17. As an appraiser for one of the largest real estate firms in the world, Steele forecasted income and expense statements and projected 10-year cash flows for multimillion-dollar properties daily.
While employed at the tax collector’s office, Steele ultimately worked his way up to tax manager, where he was in direct communication with the tax collector and worked closely with departments to assist in daily operations.
Steele looks to continue effective and efficient service throughout the island chain, all while dealing with an ongoing coronavirus pandemic and combating illegal vacation rentals.
“We’re known and we have a great reputation for our customer service,” Steele said. “People don’t exactly wake up in the morning and say, ‘I can’t wait to go to the tax collector’s office.’ We try to make it as pleasant and efficient as possible.
“Moving forward, we’re always looking and thinking of ideas of how we can make things easier for the customers and staff,” he continued. “We just want to collaborate and bring teamwork to the table.”