Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
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.