ATLANTA -- Calls to the Georgia Department of Revenue that had averaged 50 minutes on hold a year ago now only take about a minute before someone answers, according to the state’s chief tax collector who listed that and other improvements Thursday during a speech to business executives.
Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie told about 100 legislators and members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce that changes in managers, procedures and equipment is improving the customer service at the 1,300-person agency. With more than 1 million calls per year, the department generates a lot of anger with long wait times, he said.
“They’re right to be mad,” he said, adding that department employees weren’t eager to answer a call from someone on hold that long who was probably already agitated about their tax issue.
Now MacGinnitie, who took his post in January, gets weekly reports and pushes the agency to meet the standards of private industry on wait times. Since no one has a choice about paying taxes or dealing with the department, they deserve service that minimizes the annoyance, he said.
In two weeks, the largest changeover in computer equipment will bring another level of improvement from the outdated, mainframe computers the department has struggled to keep running in recent years. Still to be upgraded are the systems handling the taxes on gasoline, alcohol and tobacco, relatively smaller components of the state’s $19-billion collection machine.
He also reported that the 153 workers hired to enforce compliance in the last year at a cost of $23 million have brought in more than three times as much, $80 million, through audits and detection of fraudulent returns.
“The more effective our compliance program is, the more people are going to comply,” MacGinnitie said, comparing it to highway speeders who slow down for a known speed trap.
He estimated as much as another $100 million in fraudulent returns could be discovered if he had the staff.
House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, a former chairman of the House’s tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, praised the investments in computers and compliance enforcement, projects of the legislature for the last 10 years.
“We are collecting more taxes, which to me is a way of increasing tax revenue without increasing the tax burden on businesses,” he told the audience.
The next goal for the department is reducing its paperwork backlog, which has built to 50,000 documents. Most are in response to the blizzard of letters the department’s computers generate automatically about errors on filed tax returns. It may not make sense to send a taxpayer a notice about a $25 mistake if it takes two or three times the cost in manpower for the agency to process the resulting paperwork, MacGinnitie said.