AUSTIN (KXAN) – In the middle of the week, the line at Travis County’s main tax office does not look long. Everyone inside is seated in one of the chairs spaced six feet apart inside the lobby.
But the line to get a title transfer or to get a Texas tag in Travis County is thousands of names long. Routinely, only one date is available for an appointment listed on the county’s website. The earliest available date is usually more than a month away.
It was a problem for Carole Carlos, who moved to Austin from California in early August. Her California tags were set to expire soon after she arrived. Unlike those who are trying to renew their registration, Carlos has to come to the office in person, because this is her first time registering a vehicle in Texas.
“Every time I went on to look there was nothing available. I called because I don’t know what to do. It’s going to expire,” said Carlos. “They said to keep checking every day.”
The pandemic has created a collision of issues for the Travis County Tax Office. At the start of the pandemic, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott waived certain vehicle registration, titling and parking placard regulations. Abbott said then, the move would help “Texans avoid unnecessary crowds and in-person contact without fear of being penalized.”
“That was a good thing. We didn’t want people wandering around when they didn’t need to,” said Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant.
But when the waiver expired in early April 2021, Elfant says all at once it had more than a years’ worth of people coming in to do paperwork. Initially, the office had a backlog of 300,000 titles and registrations that people had not done in the previous year.
“We still think that we’re probably 60,000 backlogged with registrations, and we still really don’t know how many titles are backlogged,” said Elfant.
The 60,000 vehicle registrations the office estimates it still needs to do, does not account for those who are new to Texas and are required to come in person to begin processing their registration. Elfant says staffing shortages are also crippling the agencies’ ability to cut through the backlog. The office has resorted to outsourcing some of the processing work for dealership titles to Lubbock County.
But, law enforcement has resumed ticketing for expired registration and title violations. The Austin Police Department said last Thursday, it had not directed officers to show leniency on expired registration, titles, or expired driver’s license violations. Though, Elfant says his office is now in the process of drafting a letter to law enforcement about the backlog at the tax office.
“We’re in the process of getting a letter out to all regional law enforcement here in Travis County to apprise them of what the situation is, and really encourage them to give people some slack during this period where we’re so backlogged,” said Elfant.
Since April 2021, when the waiver was lifted, APD has issued more than 200 tickets for expired registration violations, according to Austin Municipal Court records. They have issued zero tickets since then for title-related violations. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office has not yet provided data on how many traffic violations related to registration and titles have been issued this year.
While those who are new to Texas and those who need title transfers still must make appointments to be served – several of the services can be assessed without ever coming into the county tax office. Vehicle registration renewals can be done online or at H-E-B grocery stores. There are also private title companies that charge an additional fee to process title transfers.