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Branning, Caldwell sworn-in to county offices

By CJ HADDAD - | Jan 13, 2021

cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com

New Constitutional Officers were sworn-in this week in Lee County.

This past Tuesday, Noelle Branning stepped into office as the new Lee County Tax Collector while Matt Caldwell took the helm of Lee County Property Appraiser. The two take over for Larry Hart and Ken Wilkinson, respectively. Both retired.

“In the time that I spent working with Larry, I learned so much about leadership development and really how to strengthen an organizational culture,” Branning said. “I am so excited for the opportunity to collaborate with Matt and find ways to streamline things for our customers.”

Caldwell will serve as the first successor of Wilkinson, who held his position for four decades.

“It certainly is an honor to have this opportunity to serve the citizens of Lee County,” Caldwell said in an interview. “My predecessor Ken Wilkinson set a high bar, and his 40 years in this office he made clear the job of the property appraiser is to be an advocate for the taxpayer. He did that both locally and in his statewide work. I’m just excited to have the chance to try to continue that legacy and work in that same capacity for Lee County.”

He said he looks forward to collaborating with Branning as their work starts for the residents of the county.

“I think she’s got the background and experience being the Deputy Tax Collector for several years now,” Caldwell said. “She can easily step into that role. And it does require that these two offices work in concert. Having our two offices being on the same page is critical to make sure the constituents find that service to be seamless.”

Branning, in her statement said, “A lot of people don’t realize the close relationship between the Tax Collector and Property Appraiser. I’m excited to work side-by-side with Matt as we look to make Lee County a better place to live and work.”

Branning served as Chief Deputy Tax Collector under Hart since 2018 and in 2013, joined the Lee County Tax Collector as General Counsel. She said she hopes to continue to build bonds with local business.

“We have a goal this year to really interact with our business community through local chambers of commerce for education purposes,” Branning said. “We want to share information and to touch base with people on a personal level to (make sure) they understand our services and to get feedback to see what they want and need so that we can be better.”

Caldwell, 38, is a life-long Lee County resident and a property appraiser at Maxwell, Hendry, & Simmons Property Appraiser and Partner at TM Strategic Consulting.

Caldwell began in the appraisal industry in 2002 and joined the Maxwell, Hendry, & Simmons firm in 2004. He is experienced in multiple property types, as well as litigation related services, being qualified as an expert witness in multiple jurisdictions.

Caldwell was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2010-2018, serving on several committees including tax policy, redistricting, insurance, and banking. He also chaired subcommittees and full committees related to agriculture, natural and public lands, transportation and infrastructure, local, federal, military affairs, and oversight of government operations, such as pensions and elections.

“I certainly think my eight years in the legislature as well as my professional background as a real estate appraiser, together give me a great head start over most of my peers when it comes to following that pathway of advocating for property tax reform at the state level but also making sure the service here at the local level is of the highest quality it can be in terms of getting it right as often as we can.”

Caldwell said under Wilkinson’s watch, the office has been the “gold standard across the state and nation” and hopes to take that legacy and build upon it.

This fall, Caldwell worked part-time at the property appraiser office prior to his swearing in to make the transition smoother. He said he learned a lot from Wilkinson and hopes to implement some gained strategies while designing his vision for the future.

“There’s a lot of new and innovative technologies coming online that will give us the ability to do the job faster, better, and more efficiently and provide easer access to information to the public, which is ultimately my highest priority – that they’re able to see clearly what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Caldwell said.

Branning also spoke to the direction of technology going forward and how the office will work to be more accessible than ever virtually.

“We ideally want to be innovative and leverage technology to the point where there there’s far fewer reasons to come into our office that exist today,” she said. “And that’s going to be with collaborating with state agencies to see how we can get there together.”

– Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj