Tax Collector taking over driver’s licenses

Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.

Driver's licenses will become Alachua County Tax Collector Von Fraser's domain after the local state-run office closes at the end of the week.

The state office that now handles driver's licenses, located at 5830 NW 34th St. in Gainesville, will close Friday, said Chief Deputy Tax Collector John Power. On Monday, the Tax Collector's Office becomes the sole entity offering those services locally.

Two of its branches will provide driver's licenses starting this month: its downtown Gainesville location at the County Administration Building at 12 SE 1st St., and its office at 5801 NW 34th Blvd., which is practically across the street from the soon-to-be-closed state office.

In May, it will offer driver's licenses at a third office at 3207 SW 35th Blvd. in Butler Plaza.

Although the state office will close, its driving course will still be used for tests. The location could eventually be reopened for a different use.

Employees have completed their training and are prepared to provide the new service, Power said. Additionally, staff members at the state office are crossing over from the almost-defunct state office to work with the tax collector instead.

"I think it should be pretty smooth. It'll take us a little while to get over the hump," he said. "There's a little bit of a learning curve."

The downtown branch has been doing a dry run and processed about 900 driver's license transactions so far, he said. The Tax Collector's Office assigned a team to handle the transition, and it has prepared the staff for its new responsibilities.

Employees received two weeks of training and have benefited from hands-on practice at the state office, said Donna Johnson, executive director of public service for the Tax Collector's Office.

Johnson works at the branch across the street from the state-run location. The average wait time for driver's license services there is about 30 minutes when business is busy in the mornings and at lunchtime.

"We've gotten very good reviews from the public so far," she said.

Staff use an electronic dashboard that displays how many people are waiting and what services they've requested, she said. If many customers are waiting for the same type of transaction, a clerk can switch to handling only that service to reduce the backlog.

Adding the driver's license business may lengthen the Tax Collector's Office's service times for the first couple months until it gets all three offices running, but Power expects service times to quickly return to normal.

The Alachua County office is assuming control of driver's license services to comply with a 2011 state law that gave tax collectors a June 2015 deadline to take over the task.

"The state's more than happy to get rid of this," he said.

Most tax collector's offices around Florida have already fulfilled the state mandate, said Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The transition has been relatively smooth because the state department already had a relationship with the tax collectors regarding license plate services.

Power expects customers' wait times for driver's licenses to drop once the Tax Collector's Office takes over because it has a larger staff than the state location and will manage requests at three spots instead of one.

Although wait times may decrease, driver's license fees will increase $6.25 per transaction, he said. That money will be used to partially offset the cost of handling the new business.

The tax collector's office will probably spend $100,000 more than it receives in related fees for its first year providing driver's license services, but Power expects that disparity to drop over time.

Morgan Watkins is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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