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Friday, May 6, 2016

Tri-counties face closing revenue offices

Friday, October 31, 2003

State Rep. Paul Weaver, District 71, has appealed to Gov. Mike Huckabee to reconsider his decision to close revenue offices throughout the state in December.

The revenue offices provide a service where residents are able to purchase drivers' licenses and automobile tags.Weaver said he was made aware of the recommendation by the Audit Depart-ment to close around 27 revenue offices across the state. "This troubled me because I know how many people still use these offices, especially senior citizens," Weaver wrote.

He said closing the offices was projected to save $700,000 statewide. "I wonder if this money would be saved or re-allocated to some other expenditure within the Department of Finance and Administration," he said.

Horseshoe Bend is the largest city in Izard County, and yet it might not get to keep access to a revenue office for one day a week, he said. The community is a retirement area with the average age between 67 and 70, he added.

If the service is discontinued the public will have to drive 20 miles to Melbourne, 15 miles to Ash Flat or 15 miles to Salem.

Many of the residents don't like to drive such a distance, he said.

Weaver said he doesn't know if employees would lose their jobs or be forced to reassign to other locations.He said residents recently learned they were losing the local post office, and now with the revenue office closing an additional burden has been placed on the public, he said.Weaver said he questions if state officials understand what the loss of both offices means to area residents.

He said services are offered online but since Horseshoe Bend is a retirement community he said he doubts many subscribe to an Internet service.

Mayor Bob Spear said residents were disturbed to hear about the closing of the revenue office after the post office closed.

He said after the two closings he wonders where the next closing will be.

Spear said he contacted Weaver after he learned of the closing.

"It's going to pose more of a hardship. I think it's a shame," Spear added.

Mammoth Spring Mayor Jean Pace is urging the residents of the city to help in the fight to save the local revenue office at Mammoth Spring by writing to elected officials and signing a petition she has at City Hall.

Pace said she has the addresses of elected officials and will share them with anyone interested in writing in protest to the action.

"This (the closing of the office) will cause a great inconvenience to the citizens of Mammoth Spring. They will no longer be able to purchase their driver's licenses or car tags locally and will be forced to drive to Salem for those transactions," Pace said.

There are 33 revenue offices statewide that are scheduled to be closed. Other local revenue offices that will fall under the closing include: Cave City, Horseshoe Bend and Imboden.The announcement was made last week by the state Department of Finance and Administration in order to save some $640,000 a year. Besides the closing of the 33 offices, all located in rural areas of the state, nine urban revenue offices will be merged into four with new extended hours.

All the revenue offices in the state collect fees for licensing automobiles and drivers.

The offices are expected to close Dec. 1 and the urban mergers will take place over the next several months.A report from the Finance and Administration Office said closing the offices will save $325,000 a year and merging the other nine offices will save an additional $115,000. Reducing middle management for the office will reportedly save another $200,000.

Pace said the closure of the offices will put a hardship on the residents in their communities.

The announcement that the Cave City revenue office will be closing its doors for good has generated a great deal of public opposition but city officials said they don't think all their hard work has done any good.

The revenue office which operates out of City Hall is open Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and is frequented by residents of Strawberry, Batesville and Cave City along with other residents in Sharp, Independence and Lawrence counties, clerk Tena Tate said.

Despite its part-time status, the office can conduct all the business typically done in larger revenue offices throughout the state. Residents currently can renew drivers' licenses and car tags and complete boat and vehicle registrations at the local office and avoid the longer drive and lines of other offices in nearby Batesville and Ash Flat.

The office, which has been open more than 20 years, is provided to the state rent and utility free, Cave City Mayor Carl Johnson said. Locals have said the closure would make it less convenient for them to conduct business. Several petitions have been circulated throughout the area to try to keep the office open but were never sent in, Johnson said."We've called our senators and representatives but it doesn't look like it's done any good," Johnson said.

"Evidently the decision has already been made. When we were told everything we've done wouldn't do any good, we tore up all the petitions and threw them away. It don't look good."Marla McHughes, assistant administrator for the state revenue offices, said she could not comment on whether the actions would sway state officials.

Tate, who has worked in the Cave City office for three years, said the office normally conducted an average of 30 transactions the one day a week it is open.

McHughes said in 2001 1,249 transactions were completed in the office, costing the state $9.56 per transaction. The operating expenses for 2001 were more than $11,900, not as cost effective as the state would like, prompting the office's closure by Dec. 1.

"Basically from the legislative audit, the performance audit, Cave City should be among the offices to be shut down," McHughes said. "It fell into the category with transactions costing more than $6, and another state office is within 20 miles."

Tate and other clerks who operate the 33 part-time offices which are to be closed, will not lose their jobs, McHughes said. Instead, they will be transferred to larger offices. "When the city is furnishing the room and the utilities, how is it going to save the state any money by closing?" Johnson said. "They've said no one is losing their job, so how is it supposed to save money?"

McHughes said the part-time offices aren't the only ones feeling the blow of budget constraints in the state. Ten five-day offices will also be closing. Four other offices will be merging.

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