Wake County

NC DMV will privatize its last state-run license plate offices

Denise Gonzalez assists a customer in the DMV's headquarters building on New Bern Avenue Thursday, April 21, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.
Denise Gonzalez assists a customer in the DMV's headquarters building on New Bern Avenue Thursday, April 21, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. jhknight@newsobserver.com

The Division of Motor Vehicles will close the only two offices where state employees issue car titles and registration stickers to vehicle owners – and convert them to private businesses that contract with DMV.

The vehicle registration office on the ground floor of the DMV headquarters building on New Bern Avenue will close for more than a week, starting at 3 p.m. Friday. A similar office in Charlotte is slated to make the switch later this year.

When the New Bern Avenue office reopens on May 3 it will become one of 127 privately-run operations across the state that DMV calls license plate agencies.

Kelly Thomas, the motor vehicles commissioner, said the 17 staff members at the New Bern office will be shifted to other duties in DMV’s call center and help desk.

“With these moves, we are improving our call center capabilities and enhancing our customer service,” Thomas said in a news release.

The New Bern Avenue lobby was busy Thursday morning, with seven car owners waiting in line for their turn at the counters staffed by 13 DMV workers.

“I don’t know how our customers will feel about this change, because a lot of them are our repeat customers,” said Angela Baker, a DMV information processing technician who has worked in this room for 22 years.

She didn’t know what her new duties will be when she reports to work next week, but she wasn’t worried.

“Everything must change – that’s part of life,” Baker said. “There’s only one thing that’s constant in our lives, and that’s God.”

Allen W. Moore of Garner, walking out with a new license plate still in its white envelope, said he figured the change would work out fine.

“I’m for smaller government, anyway,” Moore said. “If it can be subcontracted out to the private sector, I’m for it.”

Until the New Bern Avenue site reopens, residents can conduct their vehicle business with DMV online (ncdot.gov/dmv/online) or at five license plate agencies in Cary, Holly Springs, Wake Forest, Zebulon and North Raleigh.

North Carolinians continue to deal with state employees when they get their driver’s licenses in local DMV offices, but for decades DMV has relied on private contractors to handle most of the license plates and other vehicle documents required for the 9.2 million cars and trucks registered statewide. The legislature made an exception in 1961, when DMV was authorized to provide vehicle registration services at state offices in Raleigh and Charlotte.

DMV signed an eight-year contract with Sheryl Morton of Knightdale, whose business, Southeast Raleigh Management Services LLC, will staff the New Bern Avenue office with 14 employees. Morton will pay DMV rent for 3,698 square feet in the Motor Vehicles Building, at $12 per square foot.

Bruce Siceloff: 919-829-4527, @Road_Worrier

First plates were home-made

Starting with the first car (a Hudson) registered in 1909 to Raleigh Times Editor John A. Park, North Carolina car owners were responsible for making their own license plates out of tin, with painted numerals.

The state took over this chore in 1913. For decades, starting in 1929, license plates were manufactured in a hot, noisy stamping plant by inmates at Central Prison.

In 1923, the state began requiring a certificate of title, to prove ownership, before it would register a car. Insurance coverage was not required by law until 1957.

Car registration fees were considered enough of a financial burden for North Carolina families that the legislature in 1927 moved the annual renewal period from midsummer to winter, when farmers had more money on hand after harvesting their crops.

The Department, now Division, of Motor Vehicles was created in 1941 to take over chores that had been shared by the Highway Patrol, Revenue and State departments and county governments.

Over the years, car owners got their registrations, titles and license plates from what is now the AAA motor club and later from towns and counties, chambers of commerce and local businesses.

Source: NC DMV