Breckenridge Texan

DPS recommends closing local driver license office to save money

DPS recommends closing local driver license office to save money
August 24
07:25 2018

The Breckenridge driver license office could be one of 87 in the state to close if a state of Texas commission takes the recommendation of the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to a report by the Texas Association of Counties.

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which was created in the 1970s to make the state government more efficient, effective and accountable, reviews about 20 to 30 agencies in two-year cycles, and this year, the DPS is one of the agencies under review.

According to the TAC, one of the commission’s recommendations has been to require DPS to “develop and implement a plan to close inefficient driver license offices.” That charge has resulted in a staff recommendation to close 87 driver license offices across the state with 78 of them being the only such office in the county.

In addition to the Breckenridge office, other area offices on the closure list include Eastland, Comanche, Baird and Anson/Roby. Other regional offices on the list are Ballinger, Coleman, Colorado City, Haskell, Munday/Seymour, Snyder, Sweetwater and Goldthwaite. Shackelford and Throckmorton counties do not have driver license offices.

The closure would mean local residents would have to drive to Graham, Abilene, Mineral Wells or beyond to take driving tests, get driver licenses, ID cards or election identification certificates (voter ID cards) or to take care of any other related business that requires an in-person visit. Sometimes, driver licenses may be renewed through the mail or online.

Stephens County Justice of the Peace and County Judge candidate Michael Roach said that he and other employees who work in the courthouse already hear complaints about the fact that the driver license office is open only two days a week. The office is located on the first floor of the Stephens County Courthouse.

“My concern is that people who can’t get to another county will acquire challenges to renew their license,” he said. “I worry a little bit about the folks who have a hard time traveling outside of our county; if they had to travel to Graham … or Abilene, that concerns me. So, I hope that the DPS, if they go through with this, they will take that into consideration and maybe we can have some input on how that happens.”

Additionally, closing the office could cause problems for citizens needing to get a Texas ID card or voter ID card. “That’s going to be really, really tough to do. Especially if you’re economically disadvantaged and if you don’t have dependable transportation or something like that, getting a voter ID is going to be tough,” Roach said.

The JP said that if the office is closed, he hopes that the DPS will consider using technology and maybe a kiosk of some kind to allow people to apply for ID cards locally.

“I don’t know what their plans are, but they’re going to have to do something if they require folks to get identification to vote, which I’m for,” Roach said. “I think we should cut out fraud and abuse of the voting system, and an ID is a great way to do that. You have to have an ID to get on a plane, I think you should have an ID to vote. So, that’s the law and it should be. But, they should be flexible to make that available and accessible to citizens. I think, otherwise, you would disenfranchise people, which is absolutely un-American.”

The information about the closures indicates that some counties could continue to operate with a county-paid employee. However, Roach said he doesn’t think that the county budget can afford that.

In addition to being the current Stephens County Justice of the Peace, Roach is the Republican candidate for the County Judge position and does not have an opponent in the upcoming general election. If he is elected as County Judge, his duties will include serving as the county’s budget officer.

Roach said the county currently provides the office, the electricity, air conditioning, etc. for the driver license office to the state at no charge. The only apparent savings if the office is closed would be the employee’s salary for two days a week, he said.

“My fear is that this is one step of many that the state is using to cut their own budget and leave rural counties in a lurch. And so that bugs me, that bothers me,” Roach said. “But I do understand that in today’s world you do have to be frugal.”

While the county could use the office space for county business if the driver license office closes, Roach said he wouldn’t want that at the expense of the citizens.

“I would hate it if it put a hardship on local people,” he said.

The local justice of the peace isn’t the only elected official opposed to the potential closings. According to the TAC, eight senators and 16 state representatives have written a letter to Sen. Brian Birdwell, Sunset Commission Chair, to present arguments against the closures.

The letter, which was signed by Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Mike Lang, who represent Stephens County, said, in part:

“As a state we made a commitment to provide services to all citizens, even those in the most rural areas. We have been told the dollar savings from the closing of the 87 offices would amount to approximately $760,000. However, the wasted dollars and inefficiencies suffered by the citizens of these rural counties will in the long run exceed these savings.”

According to the TAC, neither the commission nor the Texas Legislature have taken any action at this time to begin closures. As a result of contacts already made by many local elected officials, the TAC is anticipating that one of the commission members may offer an amendment at next week’s meeting to strike the proposal from any final recommendation. The Sunset Commission will meet to consider the recommendations next week, Aug. 29-30.

The TAC suggests that citizens who want to express their opinions on the proposed closures may contact members of the Sunset Commission and local legislators. An overview on “How to Participate” in the Sunset process is available at the Commission’s website.

Additionally, public input for agencies under review by the commission may be submitted online. To specifically comment on the proposed driver license office closures, select “Department of Public Safety (DPS)” from the dropdown menu.

Comments may also be directed to members of the Sunset Commission.


Story by Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

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