Vehicle plate renewal lines growing
When it came time last week to buy tags for the 1991 Dodge Ram his father recently gave him, David Welker breezed through the Mesa County motor vehicle branch office in Clifton in a matter of just a few minutes.
But when he needs to renew his license plates, the 45-year-old Pear Park resident will not venture near the office at 3225 Interstate 70 Business Loop, preferring to slap a stamp on an envelope over waiting in a line of people that occasionally snakes out into the parking lot.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Welker said of renewing his plates in person. “I think it’s silly.”
What Welker sees as foolish, the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office views as a growing problem.
County budget cuts that shuttered two offices, reduced hours at a third and trimmed staffing, combined with the fact that most county residents still choose to pay for their plates over the counter rather than through the mail or online, have led to a greater frequency of crowds filling cramped offices and longer wait times.
“2011 is worse than it’s ever been,” Clerk and Recorder Sheila Reiner said, adding relief likely won’t arrive until this fall.
Officials in the county’s Motor Vehicle Division sounded the alarm and tried to tackle the problem on a number of levels starting several months ago. They say they are actively pursuing fresh strategies but in some ways are hamstrung by the same lack of funding that created many of the headaches in the first place.
“I don’t want the public to think that I am whining or anything because we’re needing to make the cutbacks just like the businesses have here. I’m completely up to that challenge,” Reiner said. “I’m just trying to inform people what we’re doing about it. And I want to get people educated on what they can do to help us.”
Majority served quickly
County commissioners slashed spending by $12 million heading into this year, a reduction that cut across all departments. The $500,000 hit to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office arguably looms larger because it interacts with the public as much as or more than any other county agency.
Officials eliminated 3 1/2 of the Motor Vehicle Division’s 20 full-time-equivalent positions, closed the motor-vehicle branches on Orchard Mesa and in the county courthouse and kept the Fruita branch open just two days a week. That has funneled more people to the Clifton and Mesa Mall branches.
Through the first six months of the year, the Clerk and Recorder’s Office had renewed license plates for more than 76,000 vehicles, a number that represents 56 percent of all transactions completed by the office, according to Motor Vehicle Division Director Jackie Campbell. Even in the age of the Internet and with the convenience of mail, nearly 60 percent of those renewals were completed in person, compared to 30 percent by mail and 11 percent online.
A survey of roughly 2,700 motor vehicle office customers, conducted the last two weeks of May, found a vast majority — 73 percent — received service in less than 30 minutes. But Reiner noted there are more than 100 people waiting more than an hour each week.
Reasons for delays
Reiner said there are several reasons why the majority of motorists continue to take the time to drive to one of the county’s three motor vehicle offices. Most of the time it’s because they don’t have enough money until the end of the month, or they procrastinate until their plates are about to expire and must renew in person. Some, though, simply prefer to do business the old-fashioned way: in person.
“I’ve had a couple of people tell me that — (they) feel more comfortable sitting in front of the clerk,” she said.
Another explanation for the long lines is many times residents are showing up to the motor-vehicle office multiple times to complete a single transaction. Most often, according to Reiner, it’s because someone is attempting to renew plates for a spouse or other relative but doesn’t have a power-of-attorney form, a requirement brought on by stricter identification laws recently enacted by the state.
There are other reasons, too: failing to show valid insurance or a form of identification or not bringing enough money. In the latter instance, Reiner said residents can call ahead and find out how much they owe or log onto the Clerk and Recorder’s website, type in basic information about their vehicle and receive an estimate.
In an effort to alleviate the crowds, Reiner and her staff have: pushed repeatedly for more mail and online license-plate renewals; launched a public-education campaign to remind motorists what they need to bring with them when they come to the office; and cross-trained four of the 10 employees in the Elections and Recording divisions so they can perform license-plate renewals.
“To train someone really well in motor vehicles, it takes months. What we’ve done is get them the minimum amount of training,” Reiner said.
County officials are prepared to roll out a series of additional measures: mapping the motor-vehicle transaction process to ensure it is as efficient as possible; launching an in-depth training program; and stationing another person in the motor vehicle office lobbies who can assist customers.
Reiner said she has an employee lined up to provide training and will kick off that initiative in the winter when license-plate renewals slow down.
The other initiatives are trickier because of a shortage of funding. She said she has inquired of private firms that review the operations of motor-vehicle offices to find out what such work might cost. As far as the screeners, Reiner said she would like to hire at least two full-time employees who could rotate between the three branches, although she realizes that’s unlikely.
In the alternative, she’s examining the possibility of recruiting volunteers who could perform an initial review of motorists’ paperwork to ensure they have everything they need and shepherd them through the process faster. Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to call 970-778-1007.