On Tuesday, Sept. 5, the Guilford County Register of Deeds office opened the only no-appointment “walk-in” passport application office in the county, which means citizens can show up unannounced and get instant passport service.
Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen said he’s very excited about the new service, which he said should dramatically cut down wait times for passport seekers, make things easier on customers and generate new revenue for Guilford County government.
“We want to make this process as convenient as possible and become the premier location for passports in Guilford County,” Thigpen said.
The service, available from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, is being provided at the county’s main deeds office in the BB&T building at 201 W. Market St. in downtown Greensboro. With Guilford County Passport Services now the only walk-in facility in the county with the ability to process passport applications for the US Department of State, Thigpen said he’s betting his office will draw a lot of customers who are planning to travel out of the country or to live or work outside the US.
“Right now, to set up an appointment through another provider, it can mean you wait a couple of weeks to four weeks,” Thigpen said, adding that the other choice is driving to another county where they take walk-ins.
“A lot of people are going to choose not to drive to Winston-Salem or to another county,” Thigpen said. “If you want a passport and you don’t want to wait – well, the only walk-in facility is Guilford County.”
He said parking can be tight at the BB&T building so his office is encouraging people to use the large parking deck on Greene Street just southeast of the deeds office.
The deeds office opened the passport office in November of last year. At that time, the service was provided only by appointment – like other providers in the county offer. Since opening, Thigpen’s office has processed over 2,350 passport applications and generated about $80,000 in revenue for Guilford County government.
It is not the first walk-in passport office in the state – but that’s only because another register of deeds snuck in under the wire and stole Thigpen’s thunder.
“The Rockingham County Register of Deeds opened last month and declared ‘walk in,” Thigpen said. “That joker jumped out there before we announced. He visited us and we helped him get going.”
Still, there doesn’t appear to be any hard feelings.
“He’s a good guy and he gave me a shout out, so he gets a knuckle-bump from the Guilford Register of Deeds office,” Thigpen said.
Guilford County’s deeds office charges a $25 processing fee and provides passport photos for $10 if needed. The federal government has other set costs on top of that. Thigpen said people can bring in photos but the pictures must be the right size and of quality acceptable to the US government. He said people would generally pay more than $10 for those photos at a private business that offers them. Thigpen added that, if passports are processed at his office, people also have easy access to their birth certificates, which are sometimes needed for acquiring a passport.
If customers need certified birth certificates, the deeds office can provide them for $10 if the person was born in Guilford County. If the person was born outside of Guilford County, but in North Carolina after 1971, that fee is $24.
Thigpen said he expects a lot of customers for the services, but he’s curious to see exactly how demand turns out.
“We don’t know what we’re going to get,” Thigpen said, adding that one concern of his is that the service proves so popular it will overwhelm the current employees handling it.
“We believe we will have a lot of people,” Thigpen said.
Guilford County was the third Register of Deeds office to open a Passport office in North Carolina, behind Brunswick and Johnston counties. Rockingham County recently became the fourth.
If people have questions about acquiring their passports, Guilford County Passport Services has a dedicated phone number, (336) 641-5322 and email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – as well as a website: www.myguilford.com/rod/passports.
Since being elected Guilford County Register of Deeds in 2004, Thigpen has provided many new services on top of traditional deeds services. He has put more records online, created a database of old slave ownership records and provided remote iPad birth registration for new parents at area hospitals. He has more projects in the pipeline that he’s not yet ready to reveal. There are rumors that Thigpen may be starting a drive-thru deeds service but the Rhino Times highly doubts that speculation.
The Register of Deeds office is holding a special Passport Fair from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23 to promote the new service. Thigpen said his staff will be there to answer all questions and, since it will be on a Saturday, parking won’t be an issue. Thigpen didn’t say whether cotton candy would be served at his fair.