Mississippi’s Republican leaders like to brag about how much more efficient they have made state government and the jobs they have cut in the process.
What they fail to mention is how sometimes their efficiencies are really just shifting the cost to local governments.
A case in point comes out of Pike County. There, its county board learned a while back that the Mississippi Department of Public Safety planned to close its driver’s license office in Summit. Had that occurred, the closest place for residents of the 38,000-population county to get their license in person would have been in Brookhaven, a distance of 15 to 40 miles.
So the county made a deal. For the next year, it will pay the rent for the building used for driver’s license services — $1,600 a month — in order to keep the office open. What comes afterward is still to be determined.
Counties, though, shouldn’t have to pay extra for services that the state is supposed to provide. The Pike County board was willing to spend the money to keep its residents from being inconvenienced, but licenses are a state requirement, so the state ought to pay the rent for the building.
A look at the Driver Service Bureau page on the Department of Public Safety website shows that Pike County is far from the only location where driver’s license offices are at risk.
The page lists 47 different driver’s license offices in the state. That by itself indicates that people in a lot of counties have to drive a little ways to renew their license in person.
Of the 47 locations, the one in Indianola, which was open five days a week, is listed as permanently closed. Another 13 of them, all of which were in small towns and open only one to three days per month, are “closed until further notice.” So that leaves offices in Greenwood and 32 other locations to issue new driver’s licenses or renew existing ones.
The offices are grouped in the same districts as the Mississippi Highway Patrol, and if the website closings are permanent, only two of the state’s nine districts, both in North Mississippi, will have five driver’s license offices. All other districts will have between two and four.
The obvious goal, and it’s a good one, is to get more and more drivers to renew their licenses online. In theory, this allows drivers to avoid the hassle of waiting in line at an office, and it reduces the number of workers needed to provide the service.
But several concerns come to mind. First, there’s a certain percentage of Mississippians who are unfamiliar with the internet and therefore would never use it to renew their driver’s license.
The other concerns come from the driver’s license website. People who get their mail at a post office box instead of at their home are not eligible for online renewal. You have to pay for online renewal with a credit card, which some people do not use. If your license expired more than a year ago, you have to renew at an office. And you can only renew online every other time, which means anybody who does it that way will have to appear in person the next time.
All those exceptions indicate that online renewals have the potential to reduce the number of people making in-person visits to the driver’s license office by less than 50%, mainly because everyone still has to come in for every other renewal.
Although the internet certainly has encouraged a significantly lighter workload at these offices, the state seems equally determined to reduce the number of offices, relenting only when a local government offers financial aid.
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