Rev. Commissioner: Customers have dropbox, mail-in options to avoid long waits at courthouse

Long lines form at the Lawrence County courthouse, typically for customers needing assistance with tag renewals and purchases, according to county officials. Social distancing restrictions prevent several visitors from entering the tag office at one time, but Revenue Commissioner Brad Henderson said those who receive a number in line are served the same day.

Despite efforts to ease wait times at the Lawrence County courthouse, Revenue Commissioner Brad Henderson said visitors to his office are still experiencing long wait times as the office works to catch up on tag renewals and purchases, which were extended for March, April, May and June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henderson, whose office saw daily staffing cut in half in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said his office was back to operating at full capacity last month, but social distancing restrictions still limit the number of customers allowed inside the building at one time.

He stressed that an outdoor drop box was placed at the front entrance to the courthouse to reduce wait times for those who are renewing vehicle tags.

Anyone who is not acquiring a tag for a recently purchased vehicle has the option of dropping payments and tag renewals into the dropbox, mailing them in, or filing them online, he added.

“We only need to see you in person if you have purchased a new vehicle or a ‘new-to-you vehicle,’ or if you are transferring a tag, or if you’ve recently moved into Lawrence County and you need to do a transfer,” Henderson said.

He said the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office continues to facilitate foot traffic into the courthouse each day, which lets customers know an approximate time in which they will be seen.

Officers arrive at the courthouse before it opens to begin passing out numbers for those who can’t safely enter and social distance inside the office area once it is full. For customers who receive a number and are told it could be up to two or three hours, Henderson said those customers are free to leave and come back the same day.

“Your number is good the same day, even if we’ve passed your number by the time you come back, they’re still going to let you in to be seen,” he said.

Although tag purchases and transfers are handled on a first-come-first-served basis, Henderson said his office is allowing customers with an extreme need to make appointments ahead of time. Those appointment times are reserved for elderly or disabled customers, or for visitors with underlying medical conditions that make them more susceptible to the coronavirus.

He said his office is also still seeing large call volumes, but employees urge clients to call ahead for questions or concerns with wait times.

“We know the phone lines are busy a lot of times, but we are responding as quick as we possibly can,” he said. “Customers also have the option of emailing us.”

Lawrence County Commissioners voted last month to ease visiting restrictions at the County Administrative and Judicial Building after statewide health orders saw the offices close to the public in March. In May the courthouse reopened to visitors, but the commission set limits to 10 visitors per floor of the courthouse until last June.

Commission Chairman Bobby Burch said staffing procedures have been eased at all county offices at the discretion of department heads.

“This is a learning process for all of us. It’s trial and error,” he said after the commission voted to allow the courthouse to operate at full occupancy as long as social distancing restrictions are still met.

“May is already a busy month. It’s one of the biggest months for tag renewals, and you’ve got March, April and May that have all seen extended deadlines, and that month is coming up now, it’s getting tougher and tougher,” he said.

An order from the Alabama Revenue Commissioner Vernon Barnett extended vehicle registration and renewals that were due in March, April, May and June until July 17.

The order also waives the usual 20-day period to acquire registration and pay property tax for recently purchased vehicles in June.

Henderson said his office staff is caught up in processing June renewals that were mailed in as of Monday.

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