Las Vegas Sun

October 18, 2017

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Northerners winning war of the wait at DMV offices

In past year, disparity between Nevada’s regions has exploded


Steve Marcus

People wait in line near unstaffed stations Thursday at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Henderson. Officials say staff vacancies resulting from a hiring freeze are partly responsible for growing wait times in Southern Nevada, but, at a Northern Nevada office with the state’s highest proportion of vacancies, the average wait time has barely budged.

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A woman shows her number as she waits at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Henderson, where average wait times are longer than a year ago.

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Frustrated by long DMV lines in Clark County? Try an office anywhere else in the state.

Wait times at Clark County Department of Motor Vehicles offices have always been longer than those in the rest of the state, but over the past year that disparity has exploded. Southern Nevadans wait as much as six times longer at the DMV than their Northern counterparts, according to February figures, the latest available.

At the Decatur office, waits jumped from 42 minutes in February 2008 to 69 minutes. At the Henderson office, they have gone from 43 minutes to 60 minutes; at the West Flamingo office, from 48 minutes to 74 minutes.

In the same 12 months, the North has seen a different trend. At the Galletti DMV in Reno, the wait has inched up 2 minutes, to 22 minutes, and in Carson City it dropped from 14 minutes to 11 minutes. (The state has 10 more offices in rural areas throughout the state, but does not track wait times at them.)

DMV Director Edgar Roberts, who took over the department in December, said he is trying to address the disparity in part by closing one of the two express offices in Northern Nevada and opening an express office in North Las Vegas. An express office handles most, but not all, the business performed by a regular office.

“There’s less wait time in the North and a higher need in Las Vegas,” Roberts said. “I’d move both express offices down there, but I figured I’d try with one.”

Closing an office would require legislative approval because the leases are active until the Legislature votes to stop funding them, Roberts said. And such a request could prove controversial.

“These offices are political things,” he said. “If you start closing them, people start calling and saying, ‘How dare you?’ ”

Roberts testified about his proposal last week, but lawmakers didn’t take action.

DMV officials blame a combination of factors for skyrocketing wait times in the South, as the number of customers being served statewide has declined.

Roberts said a hiring freeze prompted by the state’s fiscal crisis has left 150 DMV positions vacant statewide.

Yet the Galletti office in Reno, which has seen just a two-minute uptick in wait times, has also had vacancies. In fact, the Northern Nevada office has a higher share of vacancies than the rest of the state’s DMV offices, except Henderson.

Roberts said another cause for the longer waits may be that more of those visiting Southern Nevada offices are from out of state and require more services. He acknowledged, however, that based on the number of driver’s licenses surrendered by such motorists, the DMV is seeing fewer customers arriving from out of state this year.

Roberts said he would not consider moving personnel from Reno or Carson City to Southern Nevada offices.

The disparity is also the result of a failure to keep pace with the state’s population boom. The last new office to open was the Decatur office in 1998, Roberts said.

As agency spokesman Tom Jacobs put it, “We’re shoveling against the tide.”

The department’s budget has been targeted for cuts. In a memo obtained by the Las Vegas Sun last month, Gov. Jim Gibbons’ indicated he was prepared to close the Sparks and Reno express offices and eliminate Saturday hours throughout the state. After DMV staff met with Democratic legislative leaders, Gibbons put the plan on hold.

Gibbons’ spokesman, Dan Burns, said the governor is aware of the Las Vegas wait times.

“If we find closing certain offices and moving them someplace else will even out wait times for people across the state, that would be something he’d support,” Burns said.

He noted, however, that the decision is in the Legislature’s hands.

Democrats control both the Assembly and Senate for the first time in more than a decade, and Southern Nevadans lead both houses. (Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, was long seen as a protector of Northern Nevada interests.)

Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, acknowledged that Southern Nevadans aren’t getting equal services, but downplayed the regional rivalry.

“We’re trying not to make it a North-South thing like in the past,” he said. “In reality, Clark County deserves a little more.”

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said the inequity is obvious.

“Seventy-four minutes versus 22 minutes — I don’t think you need to be a brain surgeon to figure out what needs to be done,” he said.

The Legislature has not addressed Roberts’ call to end a lease on one Northern Nevada express office and open an express office in North Las Vegas. Lawmakers have asked Roberts to come up with additional cuts.

College of Southern Nevada professor Michael Green said Northern Nevada legislators have a long tradition of standing together to protect their region’s interests.

“Legislators from Northern Nevada are doing their job. They’re protecting their area, whether or not it really needs it,” he said. “I want to know what Clark County legislators are doing to protect Southern Nevada.”

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