County officials foresee long lines and frayed tempers this year at the tag office because of a change in state law.
House Bill 386, signed into law last year, purported to eliminate the so-called “birthday tax” vehicle owners pay each year. But county officials are worried that its implementation will create confusion.
“We thought it was just a little bit deceitful for the legislators to say, ‘Oh, we did away with the birthday tax,’ because they essentially have not,” said Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen.
“If you bought a vehicle prior to Jan. 1, 2012, nothing is different – not one thing is different,” she said. “You still pay the birthday tax every year” for the next 10 years, when all vehicles roll into the program.
Much of the confusion will arise from motorists who purchased vehicles between Jan. 1, 2012, and Feb. 28 of this year.
Those who bought from Georgia auto dealers during that period will have already paid sales tax and possibly the ad valorem tax once on the vehicle, and can either opt out and continue paying the “birthday tax,” or possibly pay little or nothing to opt in and end future payments.
However, car purchasers who avoided paying sales tax by buying from a private owner now will be hit with new fees based on the vehicle’s value, Allen said. Many of those buyers likely won’t discover the change until they first buy a tag.
“There’s going to be a lot of unhappy people who show up at the counter at the tax office who have bought a car from a friend and they say before you can get it registered and titled, you’ll owe 6-3/4 more percent,” said County Commission Chairman Ron Cross.
Allen’s office is trying to head off the confusion by inserting informational flyers into water bills, along with providing updates on the tax office Web site.
On March 1, the day the law goes into effect, the tag office will be closed until noon so staff members can learn the new system before taking in customers.
Once the office opens, the process for each customer is expected take longer. During the county’s initial budget meeting Tuesday morning, Allen warned county officials that she plans to ask for additional staff to ease the delays.
In addition, the Evans office will close from noon to 1:30 each day so all staff members can be available for customers, Allen said. The Appling office, which has been closed on Mondays, now will be open each weekday.
“We are pulling out all the stops to have our people available to taxpayers when they come in,” Allen said.