Two tag offices in Hall County close today in the continuing aftermath of severe cuts made to the county's budget.
The satellite offices closing in Oakwood and Clermont leave the county with only one tag office, located in downtown Gainesville in Suite 204 at 300 Henry Ward Way.
The decision to close the two locations was made last month by the Hall County Board of Commissioners to make up an $11.5 million shortfall in the fiscal 2011 budget. Commissioners voted against raising taxes and instead cut services.
Tax Commissioner Keith Echols said he was opposed to the board's decision to close the locations at 5236 Dahlonega Highway in Clermont and 3640 Mundy Mill Road in Oakwood because it would create a delay in processing transactions.
"It's going to increase the traffic at the main office," he said. "There's no doubt about that."
Tolonda Lemay, lead tag clerk, said she anticipates customers will experience an average wait of at least an hour to 1« hours with only a single location.
"It will impact because we don't have enough staff up there to handle the whole county sufficiently," said Lemay, who has rotated among offices.
In 2010, the three offices combined to serve 286,875 visitors. This includes 154,212 at the main office, 105,266 at the Oakwood office and 27,397 at the Clermont office. The main office must now absorb the entirety of those services.
Lemay said on days bills are due, the Gainesville location will be swamped with people trying to pay at the last minute.
"They're around the door and out the door and that's just ours," she said. "That line wait will exceed probably two hours."
Long wait times are not Lemay's main concern though. She's worried access to the downtown location will be limited for handicapped and elderly residents.
"They get confused about where to park," she said. "The handicapped facility, you have to go all the way around the building just to even get to the first floor to where you can take the elevator to go up to the second floor."
Commissioner Scott Gibbs said the decision was necessary because the county had to make cuts in anything the board felt could be managed alternatively. He estimated closing the two offices would save the county about $350,000 because it will no longer have to pay rent, utilities, computer support and the salaries for five employees.
"It was economics," he said. "The usage is not what it used to be."
Taxpayers will still be able to pay their bills on the tax commissioner's website or by mail, which Gibbs said was a factor in the board's decision because fewer people are visiting the offices.
Gibbs said he supported county spending cuts rather than tax increases because his constituents were opposed to an increased tax rate. Having only one tax and tag office was something he said his district was willing to cope with.
"That was a convenience item that a lot of folks were willing to sacrifice rather than have a tax increase," he said.
However, many Hall residents are not happy with the idea of having to travel to the Gainesville location.
"Coming (to the Oakwood office) makes it so much easier for the people down in South Hall than having to drive up to Gainesville where there's always parking issues, and now with everybody in the county having to go to Gainesville there's going to be a lot more traffic," David Gurske of Flowery Branch said.
In total the two locations employ eight workers, five of whom will be laid off and three who will be reassigned, Gibbs said. However, Lemay said the employees of the two closed offices have not been officially notified of their job status.
"I don't know what their plans are," she said. "I have no idea."
George Christopher of Buford said he and other South Hall residents will be inconvenienced by the office closing, but he was not in full support of tax increases, either.
"I didn't want anybody to lose their jobs or anything like that, but they have to cut budgets somehow," he said.
Echols said the board made the wrong decision in closing the offices and it will create problems in the future.
"I fought them tooth and nail," he said. "They shouldn't have closed the offices. They're going to learn a lesson from that."