GAINESVILLE – It may be welcome news for many that the Alachua County Tax Collector will soon be taking over driver license services in the area. Tax Collector Von Fraser recently announced the plans in advance of the staged takeover, which is slated to begin in late January.
Driver license services in Alachua County are currently handled by the Florida Department of Highway Safety Motor Vehicles (DHSMV).
The migration of services comes following a bill passed in the 2011 Florida legislative session in which lawmakers mandated local tax collectors take over the driver license and identification card services no later than June 30, 2015. Tax collectors in several surrounding counties have been handling driver license services, and they’re among more than 50 tax collector offices statewide that are doing the same, according to John Power, Chief Deputy Tax Collector for Alachua County.
Tax Collector Von Fraser said the State has been talking to his office about assuming the driver license services for about a decade, but he has been reluctant to take it on until now. Both Fraser and Power said they want to get ahead of the curve by transitioning well before the state mandated deadline.
Driver license services, currently administered by the DHSMV, has been a source of frustration for many in Alachua County who find wait times, multiple trips and an under-sized facility to be cumbersome and inefficient.
Power said he is hoping the change of service will ease those frustrations and lead to more efficient services.
Fraser agrees saying, “We always emphasize to our employees how important customer service is, because that’s what our office is all about.”
Perhaps more to the point of alleviating frustrations with driver license services will be the multiple locations provided by the tax collector. With just one location at 5830 NW 34th Street in Gainesville, the DHSMV office is often packed with local residents looking to take driving tests and renew their licenses.
Meanwhile, the Tax Collector has three locations, one in downtown Gainesville, another across from the current DHSMV office on NW 34th Street and a third in Butler Plaza on Archer Road in Gainesville.
“Our goal is that the service is improved, and we’re really expecting to change the delivery of service so that they can get in and out quicker,” said Power, adding, “We hope that bringing these services on will help in making us a one-stop shop for many governmental services including hunting and fishing licenses, driver’s licenses, property taxes, motor vehicle tags and more.”
During the first stage of the service migration, the downtown office will begin offering the driver license services. The DHSMV will cease operations at its driver license office on March 8 while the Tax Collector plans to launch those same services at its NW 34th Street location on Monday, March 11. By early May 2013, Power said driver license services should be offered at the Butler Plaza site as well.
The Alachua County Tax Collector’s office will absorb the 11 employees currently working for the DHSMV driver license bureau in Gainesville.
“We not only want those employees, but we really do need their expertise and knowledge as we embark on this transition,” said Power.
He also noted that while his office will assume responsibility for the DHSMV 34th Street location, it doesn’t have a specific use for the building itself. However, the outdoor driving course used to test potential drivers, will still be used for those purposes. Other driver license services, like written, hearing and vision tests will be available at all three Tax Collector locations.
“We want to provide the best service possible to all of our customers and we will be certain to notify anyone needing to take a driving test on the outdoor road course that those will be done at that same location and by appointment,” Power said.”
As for how the costs to take over the services are to be covered, the Florida legislator passed another measure in 2011 requiring that tax collectors assess a $6.25 fee on all driver licenses and identification cards it issues. But, it seems those fees may not cover the cost of offering the services.
Power said the Tax Collector currently engages in about 150,000 transactions annually. With the addition of the driver license services, he expects an additional 50,000 transaction annually. He also estimates that providing the driver license service will cost about $400,000 annually, while the $6.25 per transaction fee would only bring in about $315,000 for the same time period. Still, Power said he believes legislators have taken other actions to shore up the funding in the coming years.
Logistically, Power said the Tax Collector has been planning for this transition for a long time. Office staff is being trained and cross trained to handle the new services, including becoming acquainted with documentation requirements and security issues related to driver licenses and identification cards.
“For several months, our staff has been going through training to accommodate this change and we hope it will be a smooth one for everyone involved.”
“We couldn’t be more excited,” said Fraser, “We'll be able to help people out at three locations now instead of just one. It’s a big win for the public. I'm ready to go.”
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