October ‘nightmare’ month for license offices

Published 1:51 pm Thursday, November 3, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Shelby County’s finance manager said October was a “real nightmare” at the county’s driver’s license offices, but said brighter days could be ahead.

County Finance Manager Butch Burbage said the license offices, which are located in Pelham, Columbiana and Inverness, saw a “huge increase” in their amount of walk-in and mail-in traffic after the state enacted its new immigration law in October.

The new law requires the county to verify a person’s identity when they renew their driver’s licenses or vehicle tags. After the new law went into effect, the county was forced to suspend its online tag renewal system, which had been in use for about seven years.

“It was sprung on us so fast that we just didn’t have a chance to make our online system work with the new law,” Burbage said. “There was not a system in place for us to verify IDs online.”

The suspension of the online renewal system forced the about 38,000 Shelby County residents who had to renew driver’s or business licenses or car tags in October to do so either by mail or in person.

“We had a huge increase in our walk-in traffic at all three locations,” Burbage said, noting October traditionally is the busiest month for the license offices. “It was like the planets aligned, because all of this stuff came during a month that is usually very busy for us anyway.

“We had employee outages for various reasons, so we even hired a few temporary employees to help with the driver’s license renewals,” he added. “That helped us some, but we still had extremely long lines.”

However, most Shelby County residents do not renew their driver’s licenses or tags in November and December, Burbage said. By January, Burbage said the county could reinstate its online renewal service.

By using the new Alabama Verify website, Burbage said the county will be able to verify a person’s legal status using information from a valid Alabama driver’s license or non-driver identification card.

“If a person runs their information through the Alabama Verify website and it comes back verified, they will be able to renew online instead of having to mail it in or come in person,” Burbage said. “That Alabama Verify was the step we were missing in October.”

Burbage also said he and other county officials are lobbying state legislators to help with the situation.

“We are requesting our legislative delegation to make it a little easier to renew car tags,” Burbage said. “Of course, we won’t know the outcome of that until the legislative session, which begins in February.”