Originally created 01/18/06

Renewal change will save drivers mileage



AIKEN - Car tags, convenience and cash in the Aiken County coffers don't often go hand-in-hand, but that should change this summer when the county treasurer starts issuing license plate renewal decals.

Treasurer Linda Sharpe easily persuaded the Aiken County Council to budget $30,000 to set up a program allowing her department to take over distributing the decals from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The council also authorized the treasurer to collect a $1 administrative fee for every renewal processed through her department. Mrs. Sharpe said the fee could provide enough revenue to repay the $30,000 to the county as soon as two months after the program is implemented.

About 125,000 vehicles are registered in Aiken County, which issues 10,000 to 15,000 tax bills monthly, according to the treasurer. Though a portion of the existing registrations don't get renewed because of a sale or some other circumstance, the administrative fee theoretically has the potential to reap $125,000 in new revenue for the county general fund in the next fiscal year.

Under the current system, motorists pay registration fees at the treasurer's office and then can either take the receipt to the Aiken DMV to collect the renewal sticker or have the sticker mailed from Columbia, which takes about two weeks.

Under the new program, only decals for renewed registrations will be issued by the treasurer. New issues, suspensions, insurance problems and other nonrenewal situations will still be processed at the DMV.

The program to transfer decal distribution to county treasurers is in the pilot stages. It was developed at the urging of the South Carolina Association of Auditors, Treasurers and Tax Collectors, according to Patsy Knight, Dorchester County's treasurer and the chairwoman of the pilot program.

Even after nearly a year of experience with the program in Dorchester, Clarendon and Richland counties, Ms. Knight said there are still busy times when the system will bottleneck and have to be disabled.

Still, plans are being made to accept additional counties, including Aiken, into the program this year. And despite the occasional kinks, Ms. Knight said the goal is to provide better service to the customer.

"I (said) it had all been worth every minute of the ups and downs just to see the look on the taxpayers' faces," when they received their decal at the treasurer's office, Ms. Knight said.

Reach J.C. Lexow at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or jc.lexow@augustachronicle.com.