Raleigh, N.C. — A new state audit says the North Carolina State Board of Opticians will run out of money in 2015, forcing it to close its doors, unless lawmakers allow it to raise its licensing fees or combine it with another oversight board.
The opticians board oversees providers who dispense and fit glasses, contact lenses and other vision aids prescribed by optometrists or other doctors. Its role within state law is to administer the state licensing exam for opticians, follow up on consumer complaints against opticians and take disciplinary action as needed. It also oversees internship and training programs.
The audit found that the board has been operating since 2009 at an average annual net loss of $55,540. Despite efforts to cut costs, it has run through its cash reserves and will not have sufficient funds to operate throughout 2015.
The fees that support the board's operations are set by law, and lawmakers have not increased them since 2004, despite the board's efforts. They include $200 for the state licensing exam, $50 for a first license, $100 to renew a license and $50 to register an optical business with the state.
In 2013, the board took in about $160,000, but its expenses were about $252,000. Even at that level, its office is open only 24 hours a week.
In the audit released Tuesday, State Auditor Beth Wood says lawmakers could also consider combining the board with another regulatory entity to save money on overhead costs such as support staff and rent. Wood says such an arrangement would at least make someone available for the public to contact during regular business hours.
In her response, Executive Director Sue Hodgin said the opticians board agrees with the recommendation that lawmakers raise the fees that support its operations. But she disagrees with the option of combining operations with another regulatory body, noting that the services the board is required by law to provide will still cost more than current fees can cover, regardless of who's overseeing them.
Hodgin also said the board "has been very frugal" over its 63 years in operation and pledged to try again to persuade lawmakers to allow a fee increase in 2015.