As Erie County clerk, I would like to respond to the letter "Let's fight to keep DMV offices open."
County clerks statewide are leaders in utilizing technology to improve service. The Erie County Clerk's Office, for example, was the first department in county government to install a Document Imaging Computer System. We were first to accept credit cards and soon will be the first to make land records and images available on the Internet.
When it comes to motor vehicle transactions, technology is not the issue -- it is simply about people. County clerks have been a partner with the state in developing and implementing technological solutions that reduce the number of trips motorists make to local Department of Motor Vehicles offices. In 1998, roughly 70 percent of all county motorists renewed their driver's license and vehicle registration by mail.
Renewal notices were sent from Albany with a return address of 25 Delaware Ave. The Erie County Auto Bureau processed the renewals and returned the new registration or license to customers, usually within five to seven days.
The state's decision to change the return address from Buffalo to Albany had little direct impact upon the public. However, it will seriously impact the Erie County Auto Bureau, resulting in a loss of nearly $1 million in revenue in 2000. Erie County does not receive reimbursements that fully cover the cost of providing these services.
In 1998, the bureau collected about $35 million in motor vehicle fees, retaining $2.6 million, which was 9.3 percent of gross receipts, excluding sales tax. The state received over $32 million in fees from county motorists. Erie County taxpayers kicked in another $500,000 in property-tax revenue to maintain service at the four auto bureaus. This provides a clear, typical, unfair example of the state's cost shift to county property taxpayers.
The suggestion to downsize, while laudable, does not address the real issue. Everyone wants to cut cost, but not at the expense of customer service or by shifting the cost to county taxpayers.
The options are to have county taxpayers pay the difference between expenses and revenues to keep all offices open, close several of the offices or force the state to reimburse counties fully for all transactions performed.
I believe the state should fully reimburse counties for the cost of providing all mandated services. That is what the fight to keep local DMV offices open is all about.
DAVID J. SWARTS Elma