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Erie County auto bureaus will process record number of transactions in 2018

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Tue, Apr 10th 2018 07:10 am
Kearns looks to expand auto bureau hours to help reduce 'unacceptable' wait times
According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles renewal schedule, Erie County auto bureaus will hit a record number of transactions in 2018. The main cause of this substantial uptick in transactions is due to New York state license renewals. Because of this, Erie County Auto Bureaus are experiencing a significant increase in volume, leading to lengthy wait times of up to two hours.
On the eight-year license renewal cycle, the Erie County auto bureaus are entering peak renewal periods this year. From 2017-18, license renewals have jumped from approximately 40,000 to 134,000, a more than 300 percent increase. The trend in increased renewals will continue over the next four years. This, on top of the other transactions conducted at the Auto Bureaus, including vehicle registration and renewal, surrendering of license plates, and driver's permit and commercial driver's license testing, are leading to congested auto bureau offices with taxpayers waiting a long time for service.
"As the new county clerk, I was hired by the taxpayers of Erie County to manage the auto bureaus," Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns said. "We are seeing exponential increases in transactions every year, yet no new civil servants have been hired in nearly 10 years to alleviate the stress affecting our auto bureaus. As a result, there can be two-hour waits at your local auto bureau. It's unacceptable, and I'm going to fix this problem by working together with our partners in the (Erie County) Legislature."
In addition to the increase in renewals this year, federal requirements will force air travelers to provide identification that meets the "Real ID" standards to board a domestic flight. Either enhanced driver's licenses or "Real ID" can be used if the traveler does not have a passport. Both forms of ID are issued through the auto bureaus, creating even more traffic at local offices over the next two years.
Working to lessen these lengthy wait times and provide additional support to the auto bureaus, Kearns will hire 11 new Erie County civil servant employees for the auto bureau offices and expand hours of operation. These positions will be used to add Saturday services and expand operational hours throughout the system to deal with the expected increase in transactions over the next three years.
In 2017, the Erie County clerk's office ran a surplus budget of $772,661. The hiring of new staff will not create an extra expense to Erie County taxpayers. The hiring will be paid for through an additional source of funding Kearns has identified, totaling $1.5 million. Hiring 11 additional employees would cost approximately $338,000 for 2018.
"The Erie County clerk's office is a profit center for county government. We are the only county office that generates surplus revenue for the county," Kearns said. "New York state has shown a lack of urgency to assist local auto bureaus in this significant uptick in transactions. As an agency of the state, the Erie County auto bureaus have inherited this problem, but are being forced to independently come up with a solution. Our staff at the auto bureaus are working diligently every day to serve Erie County taxpayers in a timely manner, however the numbers no longer add up. Since New York state is reluctant to provide local support, hiring additional workers will allow us to both better serve the taxpayers and ease the immense burden on our staff."
Kearns said that adding additional staff resources will help to increase auto bureau efficiency, stopping residents from taking their business online to the state or to other counties. This will help preserve revenue for Erie County.
In 2017, the Erie County clerk's office, sent more than $10 million to the county, and more than $5 million of that revenue was generated by the county auto bureaus.
Kearns will be asking for immediate consideration of the Erie County Legislature on Thursday, with a formal request to hire 11 additional civil servant employees.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz is not in favor of Kearns' plan.
He said, "For a number of reasons, as the county's chief budget officer, I do not concur with this proposal and neither does the Erie County Office of Budget and Management. The clerk trust account exists solely for the purpose of creating new revenue for Erie County through investment of idle funds, certainly not for the purpose of creating new patronage jobs for the clerk's office. This scheme would subvert that account and also eliminate a revenue-producing stream for the residents of Erie County.
"No clerk or comptroller in Erie County history has so willingly and brazenly proposed spending restricted trust funds to fund new operating expenditures, and it is discouraging to see it happening now. In addition, it is worrisome that the clerk has not yet been on the job for even four months and is already eager to increase his staff significantly, regardless of the long-term costs this will impose on county residents. If the clerk wishes to significantly increase his staff, he should submit such submission as part of the annual budget process, starting for the 2019 budget year."
Poloncarz concluded, "As a former Erie County comptroller myself, I understand the benefit of investing idle funds, the importance of doing so, and also what credit ratings agencies will think when they see this restricted trust account raided for an inappropriate purpose. They, like us, will see this idea for what it is: an improper scheme that misappropriates the funds of the people of New York state and Erie County."

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