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Yes, wait times are long for license plates, and even phone calls at the Shelby County Clerk's Office

Frustrated viewers and posts on social media wanted to know why wait times were so long for new tags at the Shelby County Clerk's Office. We found out.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In our exclusive Verify, we found answers after frustrated Shelby County drivers told us it's taking longer than ever to get new license plates or tags in the mail - or even connect by phone with operators at the Shelby County Clerk's office.

Some drivers who've already paid for new plates and tags are still driving with expiring plates and tags, putting them at the mercy of any local police officer or sheriff's deputy.

Viewers called ABC24 Memphis about the problem, and we also saw local posts about it on Nextdoor this month.

Question One

Why is delivery of new Tennessee license plates taking so long in Shelby County?

The source

Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert

The Answer


This is true.

A lengthy backlog and understaffing has led to long wait times for new license plates at the Shelby County Clerk's Office.

What We Found

"We share your pain," Halbert said Friday. "We are frustrated. We've been blowing the bullhorn ourselves."

Halbert said the backlog is even worse this year, the first since 2006 where all Shelby County drivers must get a new license plate, unless you have a specialty plate.

"We are going to experience delays because of the number of challenges. We haven't had these plates in such a long time," Halbert added.

Credit: WATN
Credit: WATN

The clerk showed us the mailroom in Downtown Memphis Friday afternoon, where a three-person team is in charge of mailing out at least 5,000 new plates and tags each week.

"They've always had two to three people in our mailroom," Halbert said. "(It's) absolutely not (enough) for the largest county in the state of Tennessee."

Halbert said anyone who has already applied but hasn't received their plate should keep the certificate on their phone or in their car to try to avoid a ticket.

Question Two

Why is it so hard to reach someone by phone in the Clerk’s office?

The Source

Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert

The Answer

This is true.

Understaffing means longer wait times to reach someone on the phone at the Shelby County Clerk's Office.

What We Found

"You definitely cannot handle it with an old, antiquated phone system," Halbert said.

During business days, five people take in at least 100 calls per hour, and the clerk's office staff said that can cause some wait times as long as an hour before a caller finally gets through.

"One of the biggest concerns that we've been expressing to the (Shelby) County Commission has been the lack of resources," Halbert said.

The clerk said the Shelby County Commission rejected her request last year to add 24 staff members to better handle the clerk's office call and mail volume.

She plans to make a similar request again this budget cycle, but asks for the public's patience in the meantime.

"Those are the challenges we've experienced. It's not an excuse, and it's not acceptable, but there are things that need to change based on the size of our county and the needs of our customers," Halbert added.

The Shelby County clerk plans to give the Shelby County commission budget chairman a similar tour of staffing limitations in her office in a few weeks.

So what can be done?

Call the Shelby County Clerk’s main number at 901-222-3000 or the alternate number 901-222-3068 or visit any location of the Shelby County Clerk’s Office to get the new plates.

For more information about renewing license plates, click HERE.

If you've paid for your 2022 plates or tags and they haven't arrived, or you can't get through to a real person at the Shelby County Clerk's Office, text the word 'TAGS' to 901-321-7520 and we'll send you those phone numbers for help.

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