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Tax office to get new computers

The complete technology overhaul should make the office more efficient, the tax collector says.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


INVERNESS -- With the help of some new computers and software from the state, the Citrus County Tax Collector's Office will be moving into the fast lane on the Information Superhighway.

While the Inverness branch is closed Monday through Wednesday, workers will cart away a dozen of the 1970s-era terminals and install Pentium-powered computers that clerks will use to issue vehicle titles and registrations. Ten more computers will be replaced when the Crystal River office closes April 16-18.

When the offices reopen, visitors will immediately notice the difference between the old black-and-green monitors and the new Windows systems with Internet access. But Tax Collector Janice Warren said the change is more than cosmetic.

"This is not just a computer upgrade," she said. "This is a whole leap in technology."

The new printers next to each computer will print vehicle registrations on a thick, waxy card, instead of using the flimsy yellow paper that can be easily torn or stained. The new system will electronically store the information about each registration, eliminating the need for carbon paper copies that must be stored and filed somewhere.

And the annual registration decals that residents must get for cars, boats, mobile homes and RVs will be printed on the spot, saving the time clerks now spend maintaining their inventories of preprinted decals and matching the serial numbers to each registration they issue.

"It's going to enable us to do our job a lot quicker, with a lot better accuracy," said deputy tag and title clerk Ben Hagenlocher.

Hagenlocher should know. He worked for the Pinellas County Tax Collector's Office when it upgraded to the new system last summer, and he said the improvements in the new tag and title software are just the beginning.

With Internet access, clerks can easily check the latest versions of the Florida Statutes and other regulations online instead of leaving a customer waiting at the counter while they search reference books in the back. If Warren wants to issue an office-wide edict, she can send an e-mail to every employee instead of posting a bulletin board notice that some employees may miss.

As excited as Warren is about the new technology, she is the first to direct the credit elsewhere. Months before she was even elected, the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles began replacing the outdated tag and title computers, which it owns, with a state-of-the-art system.

Department spokesman Robert Sanchez said the Tax Collector's Offices in the larger counties were first to receive the new computers last summer, and 59 of the state's 67 counties are now online. A $1 charge on all registration decals issued since July 1 helped pay for more than 3,000 new computers needed statewide, he said.

Warren said Citrus County will get about $200,000 in new computers, printers and software, with the state department of motor vehicles footing the bill.

Some of the new system's benefits will kick in immediately, Sanchez said. With the tag numbers printed on the new registration decals, it will be easier for police officers to tell if a license plate decal is counterfeit or has been lifted from another car, he said.

The system can handle tag renewals by phone and the Internet, and accept credit cards to pay the registration fees, but Warren said it may be a while before her office is ready to offer those services.

Warren has other plans to bring new technology into the office that she inherited in November from Norine Gilstrap, who was tax collector for more than 25 years.

Over the next year or so, Warren hopes to replace the other computers used to record tax payments. Warren estimates those terminals, which her office owns, date back to the late 1970s or early 1980s.

With these new technologies comes greater efficiency, Warren said, and that means her office can meet the needs of the rapidly growing county without hiring as many new staffers.

Tax office closed

The Citrus County Tax Collector's Office in Inverness will be closed this Monday through Wednesday, and in Crystal River April 16-18. Residents may use the drop box outside either office or go to the branch that is open.

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