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Change not coming soon to Franklin County DMV

MALONE — The Department of Motor Vehicles Office in the Franklin County Courthouse will remain accessible by appointment only, probably well into the fall.

County Clerk Kip Cassavaw, who oversees the county’s DMV office, told county legislators Thursday that the procedures put in place after DMVs across the state were shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic have been working well, although he acknowledged they have also created “a level of chaos” within the department.

Despite restrictions on public access to the DMV office, office staff are processing 350 to 400 transactions a day — from new vehicle registrations to license renewals, Cassavaw said. However, the sheer volume of transactions is creating a backlog that could take the state DMV in Albany as long as 18 months to completely clear even after the office reopens, he said.

In order to address some of the biggest areas of concern, Cassavaw said he has assigned one staff member to deal solely with paperwork from local car dealerships and two to handle transactions sent to the county from DMV offices in New York City under a state mandate. The rest of his staff — augmented by workers from the County Clerk’s Office — have been attempting to keep up with the other routine transactions that pass through the DMV on a daily basis, he said.

“It’s very labor intensive,” he said, adding the phones in the office ring nonstop.

In addition to requiring appointments, the local DMV has installed a drop box outside the office where patrons can leave their paperwork, which will be picked up periodically by DMV staff for processing. The box is opposite the desk where security staff are posted, making it safe to use, he noted.

However, while efficient, the drop box is one of the sources of complaints, Cassavaw acknowledged. If paperwork left in the box is incomplete or contains an error, it is rejected and sent back to the submitter for correction, he said. When people are able to visit the office, those kinds of errors can often be corrected almost immediately, he said.

“Is it the best system — probably not,” Cassavaw said, but added that is better than others being tried. He urged those that need to use the DMV’s services to remain patient with the new procedures.

Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, noted that the Clinton County DMV had been attempting to allow some in-person visitation, but that process generated lines that stretched out of the DMV office, out of the building and down the street. One person told him he had waited in line for seven hours, Maroun said.

The Clinton County DMV announced on its website that, effective Monday, it will be open by appointment only.

Cassavaw also noted that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has suspended indefinitely deadlines for driver’s license and permit and vehicle registration renewals, as well as vehicle inspections. Road tests can be scheduled, but the five-hour class required for new drivers is still not available.

Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, on Friday called on Cuomo to include five-hour classes in his reopening plans.

“Restarting these 5-hour courses is not only important for teenagers and others who are earning their driver’s license, but also for our community’s dedicated driving school operators,” Jones said in a news release. “It is especially important to restart these courses in rural areas such as the North Country where a driver’s license is a necessity. We can’t leave these services out of the North Country’s reopening plans.

“As the governor develops regulations to safely and responsibly reopen schools across the state, he must do the same for in-person 5-hour courses. As we move forward, I’ll continue working with the governor to move the North Country and New York toward a brighter future,” Jones said.

Saranac Lake DMV stays closed

While the Malone DMV office is available by appointment, the Saranac Lake office will remain closed, Cassavaw said in response to a question from Legislator Lindy Ellis, D-Saranac Lake. Cassavaw said issues of staffing and safety make it impossible to open the office at this time.

The clerk said he did not want to divert staff from the Malone office, which he would need to do to reopen the Saranac Lake facility. He also noted that there are no security personnel available for the office — which he said could be needed as some patrons have shown extreme frustration with the current process — and the physical layout of the office makes it impossible to put safety precautions in place.

“The office is not set up for socially distancing,” he said.

Cassavaw said he is hopeful things can return to the way they were before the pandemic struck in the near future, but said he fears that could be months away — at best.

“I foresee this lasting into the fall,” he said adding that some of the changes that have been made — such as the reliance on appointments and telephone transactions — could be part of a “new normal.”

And even if things can go back to the way they were, the process could be a long one, Cassavaw added.

“It was really easy to shut down the office, and a lot of work to bring it back,” he said.

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