Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles employees Marsha White and Valerie Gill and Commissioner Joel Silverman listen to audience comments Wednesday at Clay City High School from Owen County resident Kay Stinnett, who chooses to use the Clay City BMV branch.
Clay City residents don't like computers and they don't like to do business over the telephone. That was the opinion of the nine people who spoke to enthusiastic applause at a public hearing on the possible closure of the Clay City license branch. The meeting was conducted by Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) Commissioner Joel Silverman Wednesday night.
About 150 people attended the meeting in the Clay City High School auditorium.
Older people and those on fixed incomes represent the majority of residents in the southern half of Clay County, Jack Michael said during the public comments portion of the hearing.
"A lot of people don't have computers," he said. "Older people don't want computers."
Michael said he doesn't like to do business over the telephone.
He also said rising gasoline prices would make it an extra burden for people to drive to license branches in Brazil, Spencer or other nearby towns to carry out business with the BMV.
Nearly everyone who spoke assumed the closing of the Clay City branch would necessitate travel, even though the BMV has encouraged the use of the Internet through the STARS system and telephone as means to conduct business.
"The STARS system is a browser-based business system that integrates with the BMV mainframe and other legacy systems and supports as many as 800 users in all 92 counties," according to a press release from Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, posted on the state's Web site.
Paul and Linda Schiele of Bowling Green attended the meeting to show support for keeping the Clay City branch open. The Schieles talked to The Brazil Times before the meeting, though they did not address the hearing.
The Schieles joined others in attendance in expressing appreciation for the personal service offered by the Clay City branch employees.
"I won't go to Brazil," Paul said. "I won't go to Spencer, either."
Paul said the Clay City branch employees were not "near as rude as employees in other branches if you have trouble."
Years ago, the Schieles bought a boat with no registration.
The Clay City branch employees "told me exactly what to do," Paul said.
He received similar help when he bought a trailer in Florida and needed to register it in Indiana.
"They're good people," Linda said.
Some people in attendance believed the matter has already been settled and the hearing was just a formality. But Silverman said that is not so.
Before the meeting, he told The Brazil Times he has conducted 30 similar hearings with one more scheduled, at Churubusco, Ind., on Thursday night.
"We have decided to keep eight of 24 branches open," as a result of the hearings, he said.
One option is a partial closure in which the state would no longer maintain an office but BMV business would be carried on by private citizens.
The state is negotiating with banks, city officials, an insurance company and car dealerships to carry on the work of the local BMV branch in towns where branches are scheduled to be closed.
"We're encouraging that option," Silverman said.
Such partial closures are being tried in Montpelier and Mount Vernon.
The Schieles think such a compromise would be OK, but "the state is making too many cuts," Linda said.
During the meeting, 46th District State Rep. Vern Tincher, D-Riley, revealed such negotiations are being made with Clay County officials to keep the Clay City branch open.
Tincher and Clay County Commissioner Daryl Andrews agree the Clay City branch is not very cost effective.
Tincher said the branch is losing more than $80,000 per year, but he suggested the state allow county officials to run the branch and charge a $3-$5 surcharge per transaction.
"Government should offer services, not try to make a profit," Tincher said.
"It's not a very efficient branch," Andrews agreed, when he spoke before the crowd.
He estimated each transaction costs the state $9.50, making it one of the least cost effective branches in Indiana.
Andrews proposed reducing the mandatory staff from three to two persons, which would reduce the cost of each transaction to $6.60, making it one of the most cost effective branches in the state.
To sweeten the deal, Andrews offered to lease the state space for the Clay City branch at no charge for one year.
The branch is located in a building owned by Andrews' family.
When asked what local community benefit would arise from closing the Clay City branch, Silverman said, "You won't have to pay increased fees. The Governor wants to balance the budget with current revenues, not create new ones."
The BMV has some hard decisions to make, Silverman said.
"I don't have to tell you how broken the BMV has been, historically."
After the meeting, Joe Dierdorf thought Andrews' proposals made sense.
Dierdorf was unaware of the negotiations to keep the branch open.
"Reducing staff makes perfect sense," he said, adding, "This is a county issue, not just a Clay City issue."
Silverman expects to make the license branch closing decisions public next week.