Last week Hall County Deputy Clerk of Court Rosa Gallaga called up more than 40 people with pending applications for notary public commissions to give them fair warning.
Gallaga, who processes many of the 4,000 notary applications that come through the Hall County Clerk of Courts Office each year, left phone messages telling the applicants that the fee for renewals was jumping from $37 to $162 and they had just two days to pay the old price.
“I got a lot of return phone calls,” Gallaga said. “We had a bunch of people come in Friday and Monday. We were swamped.”
Anyone who shows up at the Hall Clerk of Courts office from now on to renew their notary commission is likely to get sticker shock.
The dramatic increase came this week as a result of new state legislation and a legal opinion from the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.
The office interpreted a new law requiring $125 “judicial operations fees” for civil filings to include appointments and reappointments of notary publics.
Notaries working for public agencies are exempt from the fees.
The dramatic fee increase left many of the state’s clerks of court unhappy. The add-on goes into the state’s general fund, not the county where the money is collected.
“The increases created by (the new law) are exorbitant, and in my opinion, were unnecessary,” said Liberty County Clerk of Court Barry Wilkes, vice-chairman of the board of directors for the Georgia Superior Court Clerks Cooperative Authority. “This bill sets a dangerous precedent because it mandates that a county-funded, local government agency — the superior court clerk’s office — must provide an unfunded and mandated system for assessing and collecting fees for the benefit of state government.”
Hall County Clerk of Court Charles Baker, whose office processes the third-most notary applications in the state, said he’s been “caught off guard” by the fee increases.
“I was very surprised by the (attorney general’s) ruling,” Baker said.
Baker said he would have to wait and see how the public reacts to the increase.
“I will make myself available to talk to them about the attorney general’s opinion,” he said.
It’s at least the second time this year that Georgia clerks of court have had to adjust to new state-mandated fee increases for court services. Two months ago the cost of filing lawsuits, divorces and appeals jumped under the new law.
The new judicial operating fees go into the state’s general fund and were intended to fill a $96 million hole in the budget, according to the law’s primary sponsor, House Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus.
But Smith said notary commissions were not intended to be included in the $125 civil filing fee increase.
“That wasn’t supposed to be part of it,” Smith said. “That’s something we’re going to have to address in January (when the state legislature reconvenes).”