J. Bernie Quilter, Lucas County Clerk of the court of common pleas, will reopen the Oregon branch automobile and watercraft division office on Monday now that the state legislature has increased the title fee from $5 to $15. The adjustment takes effect on July 1.
The branch, at 3034 Navarre Avenue, along with the branch at Heatherdowns, closed January 30, due to budgetary restraints. The workload of the branches was shifted to the remaining branches at Madison Avenue, Toledo, and N. McCord Road, Sylvania.
“When I shut Oregon and Heatherdowns down, you went from a five to 10 minute wait to get titles to an hour and 45 minutes. This just wasn’t going to work,” said Quilter.
The Oregon branch is the only auto title office on the East Side. It is considered a one stop shop because the deputy registrar’s office is two doors down.
“The branch was just mothballed. The commissioners have been paying the rent. Six of eight employees who were laid off at the branch will be rehired,” he said.
“I have people who are retiring, too. We are not increasing our workforce. There will not be any summer help this year. We have to watch our budget, and will continue to watch our budget, but we’re opening that title office back up to serve the East Side, Ottawa and Wood counties again,” said Quilter.
For years, the state legislature, despite requests from the county, had repeatedly refused to increase state title fees, among the lowest in the area. The legislature finally agreed to the title fee adjustment. The last time there was a fee increase was in 1993, said Quilter.
“Ohio had the fourth lowest title fees in the country. What’s unique about Ohio is when you walk into a branch to transfer a title, you walk out with a title in your hand. In other states, if you want that type of service, they charge you another $20. Then you still have to wait two weeks to get it. All the states around us, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, had title fees of $15 or higher. Our fee adjustment keeps pace with the other areas.
Quilter told The Press that he hopes to reopen the Heatherdowns branch later this year or next year.
The clerk of courts office has two budgets, one a general fund run by the county, the other a Certificate Title Account (CTA) which runs the auto title office, said Quilter.
“I pay my employees out of the $5 we charge for a title,” he said. “Out of that $5, I only got to keep $2.25. The rest went back to the state. So I’ve been operating based on a 1993 budget, and it just wasn’t working any longer.”
Quilter said the fee hike will bring in approximately $500,000 more annually to the budget. Quilter will be able to keep $11.50 of each $15 fee in the budget.
Quilter said he plans on decreasing building space in the branches.
“Next year, we’re going to look at getting out of downtown. Maybe we’ll shrink from an 8,000 square foot building to a 1,500 square foot building. The clerk’s offices used to be 3,000-3,5000 square feet. We don’t need that big of a space anymore. The Oregon branch is a typical office that you need. You don’t have to pay for all that rent. You can operate efficiently out of an office like that. And that’s what we’re doing to reduce costs. Right now, commissioners pay my rent. But I’m going to have to start paying it, so I have to watch that very closely.”
“They are paying my rent right now. But with the budget cuts and the financial crisis that the county is starting to get into, they will not pay for the rents in the future. They’re going to make me pay for the rents. It’s all going to be paid for out of the CTA. I couldn’t do it based on a $5 title fee,” he said. “I know what I’m facing down the road here, and I want to get into a financial position where we’re not going to pay this high rent anymore.”
The $15 title adjustment fee is for sales between individuals, while the dealer to dealer fee will continue to be $5, he said.