The average county treasurer in Iowa issues about 3,500 driver’s licenses and photo IDs a year. In contrast, the Dallas County Treasurer’s office now issues about 26,000 a year, numbers that put it more in a league with Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) offices in Ames, Council Bluffs and Dubuque.
Knowing this demand for services in the western metro suburbs will only increase, the Iowa DOT wants to take over licensing duties in Dallas County and open a state office in Adel or Waukee.
Iowa DOT Director Mark Lowe raised the idea of a Dallas County service center Monday while presenting his department’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in Des Moines.
“Dallas County officials have asked us to assume driver and identification services in that county because it has grown significantly since they started offering services,” Lowe said in his presentation. “We agree that would be appropriate.”
Lowe said his department’s proposal is in response to the rapid population growth in Dallas County, which now stands at about 90,000, more than twice the 2000 population. Projections show those numbers will nearly double again in the next 25 years, rising to about 160,000 people by 2040.
More people demand more services, and the present and anticipated future demands are driving the change. Dallas County began providing licensing services for the state in 2000, operating out of the tiny, 3,000-square-foot location at 918 Court St. in Adel that it still occupies.
Dallas County Treasurer Mitch Hambleton said he supports the DOT proposal for taking over license and ID services in Dallas County.
“I think it makes sense,” Hambleton said. “We really are an outlier in terms of the volume of licenses we issue. The DOT will be able to offer services that we cannot.” State service centers are also open Saturdays.
Hambleton said four members of his 16-person office staff now manage all the driver’s licenses and IDs. In a transition to a state-run service center, his four staffers would have to go through a competitive-hiring process if they wish to continue doing for the state the jobs they have been doing for the county.
“My staff is very experienced, and all do an excellent job,” Hambleton said. “My hope is that all will be able to continue with the DOT.”
Lowe said state law requires a competitve-hiring process, but Hambleton’s seasoned workers “will be welcome and invited to apply for a position in the new service center and, based on their training and experience, we expect they would compete well.”
The reduction in Hambelton’s office is expected to have no effect on the office-space reorganization currently underway in the Dallas County Courthouse.
“Everything was planned with the idea that this could happen,” said Dallas County Recorder Chad Airhart, whose office will soon share with Hambleton’s the first floor of the Dallas County Courthouse. “The plan all along was to keep the driver’s license portion, which has always been separated in that small building, in the same small building.”
The state’s assumption of the busy Dallas County driver’s licensing services will also be a financial benefit to the county, according to Hambleton.
“While the county retains $7 per license issued, our expenses are far higher,” he said. “Net of revenue, the taxpayers subsidize the driver’s license operations $80,000 to $120,000 per year.”
DOT Director Lowe said the location for the new service center — aiming to open Jan. 1, 2020 — will be determined by his office in consultation with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services (DAS).
“Based on population distribution and service demand, the target area will be in the Adel to Waukee area,” Lowe said. “In this case, we estimate we need a commercial box space of approximately 5,500 square feet, but other factors include adequate parking — including parking suitable for staging customers who need drive tests — street access and visibility, safety of ingress and egress for testing drivers, proximity to suitable drive-test routes and proximity to public transportation.”
Lowe said the DAS normally leads in negotiating the lease, but the DOT makes the ultimate decision on which location best meets its needs.
“In addition, we have to negotiate the willingness of the landlord to accept a government-services tenant,” Lowe said. “Although we can be an attractive ‘anchor’ at some locations, in other locations the landlord may consider us to be a bad fit for the retail mix they are trying to establish or maintain and may not be willing to accept us as a tenant.”