Local News

A full transition

SEBRING - At 5 p.m. Thursday, a big chapter in Helen "Betty" Heacock's life will be ending as the 61-year-old contemplates retirement after 34 years of working with the state. It's one of those rare occasions when Heacock and all her co-workers at the driver's license office in Sebring will be saying good-bye to one other as they embark on their own journeys. Starting Monday, the Highlands County Tax Collector's Office is set to take over full driver's license duties as the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles closes its Sebring office Thursday at the close of the workday. The DMV office, located at 1205 U.S. 27 N., is shuttering after 25 or 26 years of serving the community, which is part of a statewide transition of driver's license duties from the state to county tax collectors' offices.
Heacock, who worked for 14 years at the DMV, said her best memories will be of teens, both scared and happy, getting their driver's licenses for the first time. "It's nice to see when you can help somebody," she said. Two or three of Heacock's co-workers also will be helping the tax collector's office for at least five months with the possibility of being hired full-time. Highlands County Tax Collector Eric Zwayer worked out a deal with the state in exchange for taking over the full duties five months ahead of schedule. While the state will pay the salaries of the two or three workers for five months, they will also give Zwayer all the office equipment, which is supposed to be transferred Friday to the Sebring tax collector's office. Over the weekend, Zwayer's staff will test the software, and come Monday will be up for business along with their other duties. Zwayer said he's ready, realizing that some adjustments would need to be made along the way. "We are trying to keep the same level of customer service," he added.
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The tax collector's
offices in Lake Placid, 11 N. Pine Ave., and Avon Park, 116 E. Main St., had already begun offering many of these DMV services. Now, residents have one more option, at the Sebring office, 540 S. Commerce Ave. For now, at least, the Sebring office will also be the only location where a driving test will be conducted and where a HAZMAT endorsement can be obtained for those who need it for their commercial driver's licenses. Zwayer said the state has helped them design a certified road course for the driving test, and they have designated some parking spots for drivers undergoing the test. With a new influx of people set to visit his Sebring office, Zwayer said that parking could "potentially" be a problem. They've been thinking about paving a lot across the street or, at some point, increasing the parking spaces at the office's parking lot. Since all of the tax collector's clerks are cross-trained to serve customers, don't expect a separate door if you have a driver's license-related request. As far as hiring more people goes, Zwayer said that if the need arises, they have an open slot they can fill.
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Florida Department of
Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Kirsten Olsen-Doolan said the Sebring DMV office currently employs five people. The DMV office along U.S. 27 is located in a building owned by the state. From July 1, 2005, until Dec. 31, 2012, the office has helped approximately 124,595 customers. Many customers can skip the trip to an office and renew driver's licenses, identification cards and vehicle tags, as well as conduct other driving-related business online at www.GoRenew.com, states a news release. Customers who previously renewed their driver's license online will be required to visit an office for the next renewal. Florida now requires additional documents to obtain a new or renewed driver license or ID card. If you visit an office to make any type of driver's license transaction, you should prepare by bringing original documents to show proof of identification, Social Security number and two items showing residential address. Customers who have ever changed their names legally must bring additional documentation. To find out exactly what you need to bring with you, visit www.GatherGoGet.com The department also has a Facebook page where customers can inquire or keep up with news that affects Florida motorists at www.facebook.com/gathergoget.

pagarwal@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5831