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Renewals are now just a few clicks away

The Tax Collector's Office allows drivers to renew licenses and annual registrations for cars and boats online or by phone.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001


TAMPA -- Hillsborough County residents who need to renew driver's licenses and tags will no longer have to get into a car to do it.

The Tax Collector's Office on Wednesday began letting residents use the Internet or a phone for renewals. In addition to cars, residents may also renew the registrations for boats and mobile homes, as well as handicapped parking placards.

Tax Collector Doug Belden hopes the options, while costing users a few extra dollars, will add convenience to the annual chore and cut down on the lines for those people who go the traditional route. If it takes off, it could even save taxpayers money to operate his office's seven branches.

Belden's office handles about 1.2-million renewals each year, and it costs a lot less to handle them online or on the phone than over the counter.

"The potential for savings is tremendous," Belden said in a press release Wednesday. "We hope the taxpayers will take advantage of this."

The program is run through the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Since it was started in January, a little more than half of Florida's counties have joined, said Carl Ford, director of the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Ford said his state offices likely won't experience the financial dividends local tax collectors will enjoy, but he said that was not the point of the initiative.

"This is a convenience issue more than anything else," Ford said.

Residents with boats, cars and other motor vehicles typically receive a notice letting them know it's time to renew about six weeks before their birthday. The notices will now contain a number, much like a personal identification number provided with bank debit cards.

With that number, as well as a credit card number, motorists and boaters may then go to the Hillsborough Tax Collector's Web site at www.hillstax.org. Click on the link for renewals -- which connects with the DHSMV -- then follow the instructions.

By phone, call toll free 1-866-467-3639. Again, have the personal identification and credit card numbers ready.

"We feel the telephone is a very important part of the solution because some people may not be able to afford a computer or they may not feel comfortable using it," Belden said. "We wanted to be able to allow those people this convenience as well."

New tag decals and registration should be mailed within 10 days. New Florida residents will still have to get their tags the old fashioned way.

A $3 fee will be added to the cost of renewing the license or tag when the computer is used, $3.50 for phone renewals. Additionally, 60 cents will be added for mail costs on registrations and licenses, $1.45 for new tags.

Most of that money goes to Compaq and Link2Gov, the companies operating the service, with part going to the credit card companies used, Ford said.

- Bill Varian can reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

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