House members told some license offices could soon close; proposal would increase their fees

People that run some of the state’s license bureaus say those will close if the fees for the services they provide aren’t increased.  That could create hardships for Missourians, especially in rural areas.

Representative Jeff Knight (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Those 174 offices are operated by private entities through contracts with the state and employ roughly 1,700 Missourians.  The fees those offices charge for services like licensing vehicles, issuing licenses, and transferring vehicle titles, have not been increased since 1999.

Operators said with the state’s minimum wage about to increase; the surge in expenses they will incur as Real IDs roll out this year; and steady increases in the expenses those offices must cover for themselves, many of them don’t plan to bid to continue operating.

Lebanon Republican Jeff Knight has filed House Bill 584, which would increase the fees those offices can charge for services.  Those fees are the offices’ only source of revenue for the state services they provide.

Supporters of his bill presented the House Committee on General Laws with a list of 46 items they say the Department used to supply that license offices now must pay for – things ranging from pens and pamphlets that offices must now print themselves to fax machines and $5000 video surveillance equipment.

“In just one instance, a Gladstone office uses 10 cases of paper per week at $30 per case.  The state requires that they use a specific Lexmark laser printer with the cost of $1,000 a month in toner,” said Knight.

Crystal Webster is the Director of the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks.  The Foundation took up operating several license offices in southwest Missouri as a way to supplement its mission of offering services to those with financial needs while fighting breast cancer.  Their contract is up this year and she said they don’t plan to rebid.

“Without something done immediately, as in this year, Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks cannot afford to rebid [the Nixa] license office.  We just can’t afford it,” said Webster.  “We got in this to subsidize our mission, right?  And so now we would be subsidizing the constituents of Missouri as they come into tag and renew their vehicles and do their driver’s license transactions.”

Backers of HB 584 told the committee if rural offices close, that will create long trips for many Missourians who will have to drive to the next closest office to conduct their business.  Knight said many older Missourians will make those long drives because they can’t or won’t conduct their business online.

Tom Raffety and his wife operate the license office in Charleston.

“When I used to live in Charleston the round trip from my house to the office was 2.2 miles.  When this office closes the round trip from my house to the other office will be 34 miles,” said Raffety.

Virginia Moore with the Brookfield license office said residents in her community would have to drive 25 miles to get to another office if hers closes.

“If we are not able to get this House bill passed, we will not rebid.  Our bid is due in October and we’re done, and I don’t know that anybody would be able to provide that service in Brookfield,” said Moore.

Knight’s proposal, House Bill 584, would increase the fee on vehicle licenses from $3.50 to $6.00 and on biennial renewals from $7 to $12; would increase the fee on a title transfer from $2.50 to $6; on operators’ licenses from $2.50 to $6; and on notices of lien processing from $2.50 to $6.

Knight said he’s proposing significant hikes in fees because it’s been so long since they’ve been increased.

“To put it in perspective in 1999 a loaded-up Dodge pickup cost $23,000.  The same vehicle today?  Over $60,000,” said Knight.

Lawmakers discussed with Knight the possibility of adding to his bill a cost of living increase for those fees, so that they would periodically be adjusted automatically and future legislatures wouldn’t be faced with the same issue years from now.

The proposal has been approved by one House committee and awaits a hearing in a second.