As Alaskans await Gov. Frank Murkowski's anticipated slashing of the budget approved two weeks ago by the state Legislature, some people in Homer already are feeling the cuts.
The two employees at the Division of Motor Vehicles office were told Monday afternoon that their office and their jobs would not exist after June 30.
"We were told by our supervisor that things can change, but don't plan on it," said JoDawn Ivey, who moved to Homer five years ago to work at the office. "She said she wouldn't count on hanging around."
Earlier in the day, Ivey and co-worker Victoria Wilson received a phone call from new DMV Director Duane Bannock informing them of the closure. The news came as a surprise, and a disappointment, for the women.
"Considering I thought I would retire from this job, yeah, it is," said Wilson, who has staffed the Homer office for 15 years.
No doubt, the closure also will disappoint area residents who now will have to travel to Soldotna to conduct DMV business.
"That's a three-hour minimum trip," Wilson said. "The lines there already are long, and for people who don't pass the written test, or a driving test, and have to go back, that's two trips to Soldotna."
For people who come from villages across Kachemak Bay, the trip will be even longer, Ivey said.
The Homer DMV office began more than 30 years ago in a motor home and has been in its current Heath Street location for 12 years.
Aside from their own jobs, the women said they regret the public will lose out on the convenience provided by a local office.
"For every person there is, there's a reason to have a local DMV," Wilson said.
The DMV in recent years has begun offering more of its services over the Internet, including online vehicle registration and license renewal, and it plans to increase the availability of those types of services in the future, Wilson said.
"But that's a ways off, and there are some things you just can't do online," she said.
DMV falls under the state Department of Administration. It maintains about 30 field offices around the state.
Homer's office was one of seven announced cuts, along with Haines, Sitka, Nome and Delta Junction. Juneau and Anchorage also will lose one office apiece, though both cities have more than one DMV office.
Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said he learned of the cuts Monday as well in a letter from the Depart-ment of Administration. The letter explained that the state looked at each of its offices and analyzed the "per-employee transaction count."
"We've requested a copy of that analysis to see if it's the case that Homer's is low," he said.
"We want to make sure it's a good analysis."
For Seaton, who tended to some of his own motor vehicle business at the Homer DMV last week, the closure represents a loss to the community.
"They do a great job there," he said. "I think they're excellent employees of the state, very knowledgeable and friendly."
Some speculate the Murkowski administration is sending the public a message about a sales tax recently voted down by the Legislature without funding, it is the public that will feel the cuts of a leaner budget.
"Do I think that? It could be, I've heard some people who think that," Wilson said. "(The closure) follows awfully close on the heels of the sales tax decision."
Seaton said he didn't think so.
"Every department was given instructions to do an audit and make the appropriate cuts," he said. "I think this is part of that. And we'll probably see more."
Wilson said people unhappy with the state's move might want to let the state know.
"The public opinion is the strongest thing in the U.S.," she said. "Write letters and put them in the post box."
Seaton said he's not given up hope for the Homer office.
"No, I haven't. But if it turns out that something has to change, I hope we find a way to do something in a way that is good for the citizens," he said.
Ivey said that, barring a last-minute reprieve from the state, she plans "to take some time to play" when her job ends at the end of the month.
"I'm going to try to do some of that, too," Wilson said, chiming in from behind the counter before the morning rush Tuesday. "But I can't pay my mortgage on unemployment."
Chris Bernard is a reporter for the Homer News.
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