By Rick Miller

 After 20 years without an increase in state reimbursement for Department of Motor Vehicle offices, Cattaraugus County Clerk Alan Bernstein thinks it’s time for a raise.

The New York State Association of County Clerks is asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to increase the percentage of reimbursement for county DMV transactions from 12.7 percent to 25 percent. It is the group’s highest legislative priority this year.

Bernstein said the state gave a 0.7 percent increase from 12 percent in 1999. Since then, the state began internet service in 2011 that has further cut into revenues county clerks rely upon to run county DMV offices. The state has begun sharing 3.25 percent of internet transactions from each county — based on the increase in transactions since 2011.

“This year we received about $22,000 for internet revenue from the state,” Bernstein said “There were a total of $675,000 in internet transactions from the county. If those had been walk-ins, we would have received more than $80,000 in revenue.”

Bernstein said that not including December, the county DMV received about $670,000 in reimbursement in 2018, “but our expenses are closer to $1 million.”

Since 2015, Bernstein estimates the county DMV shortfall to be about $1.2 million. He added having three locations — Little Valley, Olean and Delevan — is necessary to cover the geographically-large county. 

“I beg people all the time to come to the offices,” he said, instead of renewing their license or registration through the state, online or by mail. “People deserve to come in and walk out with what they need in a timely fashion. It’s a public service.” 

He added his staff has taken to thanking customers by mail for coming into a DMV office.

The county DMV offices are now providing additional services including enhanced driver’s licenses and processing the federal government’s new Real ID requirements, Bernstein said. 

Next October, federal regulations will require the federal Real ID or passports for boarding an airplane — including domestic flights. These require additional documents that must be scanned by DMV clerks. 

The Real ID and enhanced driver’s licenses require the same proofs of identification, like a marriage certificate, original birth certificate and Social Security card. But New York’s enhanced driver’s license costs $30 more and allows a person to travel by car or boat between Mexico, Canada and some Caribbean nations without needing a passport.

The difficulty for DMV staff has been in explaining to frustrated customers that they need to prove their identities again and return with documents — even though they’ve had a driver’s license for decades. The staff then have to scan in all the records while the customer waits.

Legislation to increase the state’s share of county DMV costs has only been approved in years past by a Republican-controlled state Senate. And now the entire Legislature is Democrat-controlled.

“We’re a united front on this,” Bernstein said of his fellow county clerks. “We’re not looking to make money on this. We want to break even though.”