TRUMBULL COUNTY Courts clerk is driven to increase title tallies
The title department is having more 'great business days.'
WARREN -- Trumbull County Clerk of Courts Karen Infante Allen is working the car lots like a saleswoman.
Her aim is to bring the auto dealers, and others doing title work in other counties, back to Trumbull County since the county won't be subsidizing the title operation this year.
Since taking office in January, she has made appointments with 20 to 25 dealership owners and their title clerks, and others in the business, and ventured out to see them.
"I've gone to dealers, to registrars, asking them if we've lost their business, what can we do to get their business or keep them here," Infante Allen said. "I say, 'We're Trumbull County, your business is in Trumbull County, would you give us a chance to serve you?'"
Their response varies, she said. Some say they left the county for more efficient service, others say they'll consider coming back.
So far, she said she's persuaded two large dealerships, Pace Pontiac in Niles and Andretti Ford in Newton Falls, to do their title transactions in Trumbull County. She said Andretti had been going to Portage County and Pace did business in both Trumbull and Mahoning counties.
She's also persuaded two license bureaus to bring their business back downtown. People apply for titles there and the paperwork is processed in the title department on the first floor of the county administration building.
There are dozens more such house calls she needs to make, including the used car lots. Trumbull County knows it has lost title business to neighboring counties.
About four years ago the state started to allow cross-county titling. It used to be that people living in Trumbull County had to get their title work done in the home county. Now, people can go to any county in the state.
"That's when it became a business," Infante Allen said. "That's when you had to start lobbying your people to stay."
Compounding the problem was that Trumbull County at the time didn't apply to be a "limited authority deputy registrar" through a pilot program. Mahoning County has this authority and can issue temporary tags and do vehicle inspections.
Infante Allen said she has now applied to the state for the authority.
"I'm not trying to steal business from Mahoning County, I'm just trying to get the business back that we lost," she said.
This is especially important for Trumbull County this year, she said. That's because on March 31 the partial reimbursement the county received for Trumbull title transactions done in other counties was ended by the state. That was an average of $4,000 per month that the county no longer has; last year's total was $63,000, she said.
No county subsidy
Also, because of the county's general fund shortage this year, there will be no county subsidy for title department operations. Last year the county subsidized auto title to the tune of $59,000. Before cross-county titling, the auto title department had been self-sufficient and even would generate money for the general fund.
An auto title costs $5. From that, the state gets $2.75 and the county gets $2.25. There are 14 employees in the department and they handle an average of 350 car titles a day. Adding the handling of duplicate titles and watercraft to that raises the daily total to 750, the clerk said.
Trumbull County processed 74,000 car titles in 2004. Its revenue from all titles in 2004 was $697,673, which was placed into a title administration fund. "That's what we run our office on," she said, noting the total had been declining, hence the $59,000 subsidy.
Infante Allen, 39, a Democrat, was in the Niles Municipal Court system for 17 years, and was its systems administrator before winning election last November. Margaret O'Brien retired as clerk at the end of 2004.
Infante Allen said she's had a very good first four months in office and expects the county's title business will grow.
'Great days' at the office
In March and April the department had what she called four "great business days." These are any time the value of the day's business, composed of the $5 title fee and the sales tax, which is 6.5 percent in Trumbull County and higher in others, exceeds $100,000.
"On March 30 we reached our first over-$100,000 day since I've been in office," Infante Allen said. "We were having $45,000 to $50,000 days."
March 30 was $106,564; April 8, $129,350; April 20, $106,402; April 28, $104,205. Days that came close were April 7, with $95,677; April 21, with $93,329; and April 26, with $97,713.
Because of these days, and others, the amount of money the county puts into its title administration fund is increasing monthly: $40,000 in January, $49,000 in February, $44,000 for March, and $60,000 in April, she said.
"We are taking a proactive approach. I met with all of my employees and told them what my expectations were, how the office was going to be run, and how customer service is No. 1 in my book," Infante Allen said. "They all understood."