Coweta Ad Valorem
More than 1,600 Cowetans opt in new car title tax
by Sarah Fay Campbell
More than 1,600 Cowetans chose to “opt in” the state’s new title tax in March — even though many of them probably could have waited.
The Coweta Tag Office was a busy place the first two weeks of March, after the new law went into effect on March 1. Cowetans faced long lines, and on a few occasions, those who got there late in the afternoon were turned away.
“But since then, things have smoothed out considerably,” said Coweta Tax Commissioner Tommy Ferrell.
Under the new system, which applies to all vehicles purchased after March 1, the yearly ad valorem tag tax is replaced by a one-time title tax on the fair market value (FMV) of the vehicle. The “Title Ad Valorem Tax” also replaces the sales tax on vehicles.
Georgians who bought vehicles between Jan. 1, 2012, and Feb. 28, 2013, can choose to opt in the new system or stick with the old system.
Many of those wanting to opt in rushed to the tag office the first few weeks of March — leading to unnecessarily long waits.
Those who want to opt in are asked to wait until closer to their birthdays, when it’s time to renew your tag. Don’t wait until after your birthday, however. If you do, you will be responsible for paying the 2013 tag tax before you can opt in.
If you bought a vehicle at a dealership and paid sales tax, you’ll want to opt in because the sales tax you’ve already paid will cover the TAVT due, Ferrell said. There have only been a few cases where vehicle owners had to pay an additional tax.
If you bought your vehicle from an individual and didn’t pay sales tax, however, the decision whether or not to opt in can be more difficult to make.
Ferrell said he has no way to know for sure how many of the 1,600 vehicle owners who opted in have birthdays later in the year and could have waited, but he estimates it’s 30 to 40 percent.
To deal with the changes, Ferrell’s office has hired two part-time workers. The first staff member was hired in late January.
The newest tag office employee started work Monday. “She will be in training for several weeks, probably, before she can work at the windows,” Ferrell said, but she is already “doing what she can.”
Ferrell expects things to get busier over the next few days because the tag renewal notices just went out for those vehicle owners who have birthdays in May.
Tag office workers have gained familiarity with the new system. Now that there have been some changes made to the state system, the process should get even easier.
The Georgia General Assembly tweaked the law this session, but the law wasn’t finalized until after March 1.
The state is “finally getting some of those changes and fixes done” in the computer system, Ferrell said. “We got a couple of e-mails today from the revenue department” saying that different fixes were in place.
Before the changes got into the computer system “you could work around it, with doing different things,” Ferrell said. That workaround might take eight to 10 steps “where now you may only have to do two.”
So now, as long as the state’s system is up and running, the lines move rather quickly, Ferrell said.
But the state’s system isn’t always up and running.
On Wednesday, the printing systems were down for about half an hour.
“If these down times are intermittent and only last a few minutes, county tag office staff can work around them. However, if the down time lingers for a while, taxpayers and staff alike can grow frustrated because no transactions can be processed until the system comes back up,” Ferrell said. “When these down times occur, county tag offices are ‘dead in the water’ until the system is up and going again.”
Ferrell said the officers of the Georgia Association of Tax Officials will be meeting with the Georgia Department of Revenue next week to talk about the problems with the state computer system, known as GRATIS.
The officers are going to “talk about the concerns about downtime on GRATIS and see where we might need to go as far as” trying to get the state to do some upgrades on the system.
The same computer system handles all county tag offices, as well as all Department of Driver Services driver’s license offices and several other departments. The DDS has been having issues with their computer system going down, too, Ferrell said.
The tag office on the Perry Street side of the Coweta County Administration Building in downtown Newnan is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for the third Wednesday of the month, when it opens at 8:30.
Ferrell said the shortest lines are usually early in the morning. Sometimes, the lines are short in mid-afternoon but not always.
Despite all the problems, Ferrell feels his staffers are doing a great job explaining the new system to taxpayers and working around the various issues that have come up. They do “an outstanding job of moving taxpayers in and out of the office as quickly as possible.”
“Even with everything going on, plus dealing with the complexities of a new system, my office always tries to provide the taxpayer with excellent customer service,” Ferrell said.