Tax Collectors Question Outsourcing of License Plate Distribution
Around the State
Tax collectors across Florida say a massive proposal to replace every license tag within two years, which goes before the state Cabinet next week, will increase costs for motorists and reduce customer service.
Leon County Tax Collector Doris Maloy said motorists will get little in return if the 15 million plates are distributed by a private vendor that could be more expensive and out of state.
“Our concern is doing away with the system that currently works, a system that currently works for the people of our communities, and replacing it with a system that would hurt customer service and would cost drivers more money here in Leon County and other counties as well,” said Maloy, who was one of 12 county tax collectors to address the media Wednesday at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee.
“A study commission by our association found no real cost savings from the proposed change in the plate issuing system.”
The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will go before Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet next week with a proposal to redesign license plates so they are easier for cameras to read.
Highway Safety Executive Director Julie Jones has expressed that the push back from the tax collectors is due to a concern about change and the potential impacts to staffing by having more business done online.
But tax collectors say they have been encouraging people to go online for years to improve customer service, which they admit is part of the politics in getting re-elected.
"We encourage technology," said Manatee County Tax Collector Ken Burton. "It's not about fees, it's not about protecting our turf."
Leon County is one of 16 counties in Florida that doesn’t charge any service fee on mail and Internet orders for tags and renewals.
Other counties, seeking to encourage people to use online services, are currently considering dropping such fees.
“We are looking at a campaign in the next year not to charge that and to force more people to the Internet,” said Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon.
The redesign, which would seek to make certain characters more distinguishable from one another such as the ‘Q’ and ‘O’ or ‘B’ and ‘8,’ is intended for public safety and to increase collection on those running toll booths by $4.8 million.
The state estimates that 10 percent of motorists run SunPass and other toll booths without corresponding transponders.
"The improved fonts and the simplistic graphic will also improve readability for the human eye, thereby improving the accuracy of information provided to and used by law enforcement,” according to the agency’s study on the redesign. "These changes improve toll enforcement and red light enforcement, but also serve as an important safety initiative for law enforcement and all drivers on Florida’s roads."
The agency would like approval from the Cabinet to endorse the plan to use more than $23 million through fees including tag renewal that are already in place to cover the cost of the redesign and replacement. The state Legislature in the 2013 session would have to approve the redesignation of the money.
Tax collectors say their focus is the impact on customer service as they wouldn’t see a drop in revenue or a need to eliminate employees.
Florida Tax Collectors Inc., the elected officials’ organization, commissioned Capital Analytics LLC to evaluate the impact of the DHSMV plan.
Capital Analytics has noted that the annual savings, estimated by DHSMV at $123,000 per year, would be offset by some $400,000 in startup costs including development of bid requests, vendor selection and independent contract monitoring. The eventual cost could top $31 million.
“The state has experienced a number of serious setbacks in implementing complex, statewide systems in recent years,” according to the Capital Analytics study.
“If there are serious problems with implementation or ongoing operation, the tax collectors will have already given up much of their capability to step in and deliver these services. A replacement vendor who can pick up immediately is unlikely to exist. Clearly, this scenario is not far-fetched. We see no indication that contingency planning has been considered at all by the department.”
The state has posted a couple of examples of what the new plates could look like, but intends to set up an online poll to allow Florida motorists to chime in on the redesign.
One thing that will be done is that the new plates would expand the number of characters from six to seven, a nod to the increase in motor vehicles.
Pinellas County Tax Collector Diane Nelson said the state should focus first on changing the plates in the counties that have toll booths and remove county designation in order to allow tags to more easily transfer from region to region.
Reach Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 215-9889.