Short staff means long waits for driver’s license, ID customers

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A short staff means wait times of two hours are not uncommon at present at the driver's licensing and photo ID center at 918 Court St. in Adel.

A skeleton crew might seem fitting for the Halloween season, but it means long wait times for driver’s license customers at the service center at 918 Court St. in Adel.

The Dallas County Treasurer’s office has issued driver’s licenses and photo IDs for the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) for 20 years from the Adel center. The DOT will take over the duty in January at its new state-run center at 1156 S.E. Ashworth Road in Waukee, and the transition in service might be a little bumpy, according to officials.

At the Tuesday morning meeting of the Dallas County Board of Supervisors, Treasurer Mitch Hambleton explained “the dire situation that we have out here” in terms of staffing. He illustrated the case with an example from the day before, when two members of his three-person driver’s licensing staff were away for medical reasons.

“I got a phone call” from the sole remaining clerk, the treasurer said, “and she had to go to the bathroom. It’s that critical. I went over there because there were 30 people in the lobby and two people testing, and you simply can’t leave the facility unmanned.”

Hambleton said he “gently suggested to those folks sitting in the lobby how long their wait might be and what a wonderful meal they might be able to catch at the Northside Diner in Winterset.”

As a way to communicate the urgency of the situation to the DOT, Hambleton asked the supervisors to give the required 30-day notice to the DOT of the county’s intention to withdraw from the 28E agreement under which it has provided the licensing and photo ID services for the state.

“The action I’m requesting you folks to take today is purely a recognition that we’re not able to fully staff and to fulfill the requirements of our 28E agreement,” Hambleton told the supervisors, who approved putting the DOT on notice.

For its part, the DOT knows Hambleton’s driver’s licensing office has lately been swamped, and the state aims to help pick up the slack in Adel during the transition to the Waukee center.

“We are aware that it has been challenging for the treasurer’s office to maintain adequate staffing coverage for the volume of customers served at the location,” said Melissa Spiegel, director of the motor vehicle division of the Iowa DOT. “They have been operating with three driver’s license staff members, and we have recently been providing some additional staffing support with DOT employees at their office during some of their busiest times. However, as we get closer to the transition of services to the state-operated center in Waukee and county employees make alternate decisions about their future career paths, it became evident that more DOT staffing support would be necessary there before the new facility is opened and services transition to the new Waukee location.”

The Waukee service center is now on track, Spiegel said.

“I believe the lease was signed today,” she said Tuesday, “and work on the build-out has begun.”

A new, short-term 28E agreement between the county and state will spell out the staffing duties between Nov. 21, when the current agreement ends, and the expected Jan. 1 opening of the Waukee center. DOT staffers from the Ames and Ankeny offices will likely pitch in in Adel.

“It’s not going to be pretty,” Hambleton said, “but I’m told by my staff that they’ll make it work. It’s tough in that I just don’t have the staff to be able to do it.”

Supervisors Chairperson Mark Hanson said when customers grumble about the long waits, it makes the county look bad even if it is a state responsibility.

“It’s the perception of everything,” Hanson said. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s really the DOT’s problem. It’s, like, ‘Geez, the county of Dallas is screwed up, and they can’t even get it figured out.’ I don’t know if there’s some well-worded little ‘This office is in transition’ statement you could hand to somebody when they walk in the door, saying, ‘Waits could be long in here.'”

Hambleton said his office staff would continue to do their duty in providing service.

“Hopefully it’ll be no worse than what I’m providing right now,” Hambleton said humorously. “I’ve quite regularly been over there at 7:55 in the morning and talked to the people in line and said, ‘Okay, from you on back, you’re likely waiting for two hours.’ If I were in that position, I’d want to know what that is.”

Spiegel was also positive about the transition to the Waukee center.

“We are committed to ensuring continuity of driver and identification services in Dallas County,” she said. “We are currently working closely with Dallas County on a plan and agreement to continue services from the current county location in Adel until we open our new, permanent DOT-managed facility in January 2020.”

In announcing the likely site of the new center last month, Spiegel said the state-operated location in Waukee will increase the percentage of Dallas County’s driving-age residents living within a 20-minute drive of the driver’s license center from 67 percent of residents near the existing Adel site to 77 percent of residents near the new Waukee location.

She explained that the choice of the new location was based on a number of factors, including:

  • Customer access
  • ADA compliance
  • Zoning of the property
  • Parking capacity and square footage able to handle the expected customer volume
  • fiber-optic connectivity
  • Feasibility of providing drive tests in the area
  • Affordability

With the steady growth in Dallas County’s population, a space of approximately 4,500-5,000 square feet of office space was estimated to meet the department’s needs, she said, along with staff and customer parking of 45-60 parking spaces. The new site satisfies those criteria, she said.

“Dallas County is unique in that the population mass is in the southern and eastern part of the county rather than the center,” Spiegel said, “and we knew that it would be challenging to find a perfect location that would be ideal for every population center in the county. Because of this, we knew we had to look at our options very carefully and make the best decision based on space requirements, parking, cost and access that would benefit the maximum number of residents.”

The search zone was bounded by U.S. Highway 6 on the north, U.S. Interstate 80 on the south, Grand Prairie Parkway on the east and U.S. Highway 169 on the west, including the city of Adel. The search zone was determined by the density of the Dallas County customer population and ease of access for motorists traveling to the location.

“One property in Adel was included on the list but later removed after it was quickly sold and no longer available for lease,” Spiegel said. No other available commercial properties in Adel met the needs of a new driver’s license service center.

“When the new service center is opened at the beginning of calendar year 2020, we will have a team of eight at the new location,” she said, “which includes one supervisor and seven staff members. We are still in the middle of the hiring process but should have the new team assembled in October.”

Spiegel said the hours for the new center will be the same as at other DOT service centers: Tuesday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Dallas County provided the state’s licensing and ID services for 20 years in Adel. The DOT announced its intention to take over licensing from Dallas County in November 2018.

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 issues about 26,000 a year, numbers on a par with DOT offices in Ames, Council Bluffs and Dubuque, and the numbers are expected to increase.

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