Tensions over the closure of the IRS erupted Tuesday at a Dallas County Commissioner’s court hearing in which Commissioner John Wylie Price accused IRS John Ames of mismanaging his office.
Due to understaffing at tax offices, Ames staff closes offices to the public once a week so they can spend time registering vehicle titles and online transactions.
Price said no other county agency has that luxury.
“There is no other office in Dallas County that we have closed to the public. we don’t close [Dallas County Health and Human Services] to the public, we’re not closing the sheriff’s department to the public, so why are we closing the IRS?” Price said. “This is unacceptable.”
Ames pointed to his request for a temporary pay rise, which the committee members turned down last year, as part of his attempt to resolve ongoing staffing problems.
Ames said in an interview that fourteen percent of the 287 positions in the tax authorities are vacant. He said that shortage, combined with an influx of pending transactions, led to the decision to close each of the seven IRS offices once a week.
“I would like to have all my branches open every day of the week, I would like to have the staff working at full capacity to be able to do this,” Ames said.
The exchange at a regular court session takes place during one of the busiest times of the year for the tax office. The deadline for paying property taxes is January 31st.
Since July, the offices have been open to visitors four days a week. All offices of the tax office are open on Mondays and Fridays, the busiest days. Branches in downtown, Garland, and South Dallas close on Tuesdays, branches in North Dallas and Oak Cliff close on Wednesdays, and Grande Prairie and Mesquite Township close on Thursdays.
On days when offices are closed, employees work with vehicle ownership claims from dealerships and mail-in transactions, Ames said. The office currently has 12,000 dealer title applications.
Ames has set a goal of processing title applications within 10 days of receiving an application, and he says it currently takes about 30 days.
A discussion between Price and Ames over the closure heated up when Price asked Ames what the distance was between the South Dallas and downtown branches.
“I can’t tell you, sir,” Ames said.
Is it because you don’t care? Price asked.
“No, sir. Does anyone in this court think that I, as the IRS of Dallas County, care?” Ames replied.
“I do. Yes,” Price replied.
The tax office struggled to fill the vacancies for several months. The office had trouble keeping up with demand last summer as car sales surged, staffing shortages continued, and software was out of stock. Ames has since reduced the vacancy rate from 30% to 14%. But more than half of tax office employees have been in the office for less than two years, and Ames said they are less efficient than experienced employees.
Ames’ demand for pay differentials – a temporary pay increase for hard-to-fill positions, such as those directly serving the public at the tax office – would increase hourly pay from $19 to $22 an hour.
The commissioners denied his request, but approved the difference in pay between the sheriff’s department and the juvenile courts.
Dallas Human Resources Director Bob Wilson told the court Tuesday that payroll schedules are being evaluated by a consultant to determine how the county’s pay compares to other major counties and the D-FW metroplex. The last wage survey was a decade ago.
Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins said he wants to wait for the evaluation to be completed to resolve the issue, but wants to resolve it quickly.
Commissioner Elba Garcia said she understands the frustration of having tax offices close once a week, but also understands the difficulty of hiring right now.
“I think he’s trying his best,” Garcia said of Ames.
Commissioner Teresa Daniel said she appreciates the tax office’s work and wants staff to continue to explore all options.
“What I see is that our department, led by Mr. Ames, is looking at every part of the process, looking at how it can be more efficient, looking at how it can better educate people who have this kind of contact with people in the IRS. inspections,” Daniel said.
All county tax offices will be open on the Monday and Tuesday before the property tax deadline. Ames said employees will work late Tuesday so that as many people as possible can meet the deadline. Invoices paid after the due date are subject to late fees.
To reduce staff workload and waiting times, Ames encouraged the public to use tax office online services to pay property tax bills or use an online portal and grocery stores to register a car.