Local News

DMV defends system of independent license plate offices

Posted November 8, 2012

— The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles has closed seven independently operated license plate offices statewide in the last two years, but officials said Thursday that they plan to keep using contractors to run the offices.

The DMV shut down a license plate office inside University Mall in Chapel Hill on Wednesday after an internal review showed accounting irregularities and other inappropriate activities. Investigators are trying to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.

Donna Boone, the DMV's vehicle services administrator, said the internal review turned up monthly discrepancies, starting early this year, between money coming in to the Chapel Hill office and the amount deposited on a timely basis into the state's bank account.

"We realized it was an ongoing problem," Boone said. "The state needs this money, and if it's not being placed in the account at the time that it's due, then that's interest we could be losing."

The contractor is ultimately responsible, she said.

Caprina Kirkpatrick, 43, who has operated the Chapel Hill office since 1999, denied any wrongdoing. She admitted that the office made a lot of mistakes, but she said they weren't intentional or malicious.

The DMV has contracts for 122 license plate offices across the state. The offices provide vehicle registration services and title transactions, as well as vehicle license plate renewals.

DMV license plate office in Chapel Hill closed DMV has closed seven license plate offices in two years

In addition to Chapel Hill, which was the only license plate office in Orange County, the agency has closed offices in Lillington and Columbia this year. In 2011, four license plate offices, including those in Siler City and Saint Pauls, were shut down because of questionable practices.

The reasons for the closures range from accounting irregularities to knowingly processing fraudulent paperwork to not keeping the right hours.

Boone said, however, that the DMV doesn't plan on making changes to the contractor system.

"We think what we have is a very good fit," she said.

Orange County drivers, who now must go to Durham for vehicle registration services, aren't so sure.

"Obviously, something has to change, because to close down three of them...." resident Ann Booterbaugh said.

Boone said the DMV routinely audits the independent offices, and the state Department of Transportation and the State Treasurer's Office also review each office's books.

"We're hopeful we always eventually find what's going on, and we prosecute if prosecution is necessary," she said.

People can use two license plate offices in Durham until the DMV issues a new contract in Chapel Hill, officials said. Those offices are at 1058 W. Club Blvd, 919- 286-4908, and at 5410 N.C. Highway 55, 919-544-3662.

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  • BernsteinIII Nov 9, 2012

    "What is your objection to these plates? There is obviously a demand as people continue to buy them. " - davidk

    A lot of the plates can't even be recognized as belonging to the state and at best, are difficult to read. To me, being able to identify a plate's state easily is important for law enforcement. Heck, if someone with NASCAR plate or Smokey Mountain plate were involved in an accident and sped off, I doubt that most people would be able to read it!!!

    Plus, I've not seen evidence that the state actually *makes* money selling those. I'm not saying they don't, I'd just like to see the calculations they use.

  • tran Nov 9, 2012

    They closed the license plate agency in Lexington 3 years ago and as far as I know it hasn't reopened. The DMV closes these down with no plan to reopen them. They just send people to the next town to do business. Have any they closed ever reopened?

  • lasm Nov 9, 2012

    LKG-Lover: "there is a considerable effort involved with both these closings and the oening processes. This is government waste. Any potential savings gained from using contractors is probably lost due to the overhead of auditing, closing and opening offices."

    There is absolutely no record of research from everyday citizens to support this statement. Opinions are just that-uneducated (in the practice of a certain field) and bias opinions. I have never understood how anyone can state a fact about anything they have no knowledge of nor education in.....
    If the State has closed a few offices for misconduct, especially in financial areas, it would seem that those critical of the independent license plate offices and our DMV Division would applaud them for being diligent-not the opposite.

  • davidk_at_unc Nov 9, 2012

    "They should standardize all the NC plates and stop the vanity garbage. They are state government and should not be attempting to make a profit. They should have plates that are readable and recognizable as NC license plates." -- immaannoid

    What is your objection to these plates? There is obviously a demand as people continue to buy them. They aren't costing taxpayers any additional money ... in fact, they're apparently money makers. Could it be that you're just prejudiced against anything that you don't personally like ... anything that's "different"?

  • dwntwnboy Nov 9, 2012

    "They are state government and should not be attempting to make a profit" but the new Gov wants NC to be a like a "business"...in other words, to juice us for as much as they can for the bottom line. Look out NC, we just became "customers" of a store called NC Government...that ironically, we own!!

  • Road-wearier Nov 9, 2012

    Hysterical. Conservatives howl for privatization of everything...but when this happens they howl for the state to take it over 'like it should be.'

    Can't have it both ways, kids. If you farm out to for-profit firms, they are going to do everything they can to maximize those profits...and it probably won't be pretty or always ethical/legal.

  • BernsteinIII Nov 9, 2012

    They should standardize all the NC plates and stop the vanity garbage. They are state government and should not be attempting to make a profit. They should have plates that are readable and recognizable as NC license plates.

  • westernwake1 Nov 9, 2012

    I find the system of independent license plate offices to work very well in North Carolina. The issue is that the service varies among offices. Some offices provide great service and others (like the office in this article) provide poor service.

    In order to fix the problems, the state needs to only provide office contracts to people/firms qualified to operate them from a knowledge/financial perspective, and take the politics out of the selection process of plate office owners.

    The DMV needs to provide clear standards of the requirements to hold a plate office contract and then monitor performance continually (which they seem to be doing).

  • mtnmama Nov 9, 2012

    Craziest thing I've ever heard. Gov. Elect McCroy has pledged a customer service culture...hopefully he'll fix this. Not the place for privatization.

  • ripetomatoes Nov 9, 2012

    Smithfield's license plate agency is great.
    I think integrity and honesty are the reason.
    All the opinions I read here are not supported by any research other than previous news stories.
    This system is one of the few in this state that ain't broke enough to waste money trying to fix.

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