ANCHORAGE (AP) The state plans to close seven offices of the Division of Motor Vehicles at the end of the month because of budget cuts.
The closures are planned despite an increase in vehicle registration fees Gov. Frank Murkowski signed Monday that's expected to raise $12 million a year.
Assistant Administration Commissioner Kevin Jardell said that extra money will go into the state's general fund to help fill the gap between spending and revenues and help pay for other state services motorists receive, such as road plowing and law enforcement.
''I don't know if you've heard or not, but there is a budget shortfall, and in keeping with the governor's commitment to preserve the bond ratings and the fiscal stability of the state, cuts have to be made, generally across the board,'' Jardell said. ''And this is one area, DMV, where we saw cuts could be made.''
He said he believes services can continue to be provided through technology, through other DMV offices and through the use of commissioned agents in communities where offices are closed.
''I'm sure it will have some impact,'' said Mike Miller, commissioner of the Department of Administration. ''Our challenge at the Department of Administration and the DMV is to lessen that impact as much as we can.''
Miller said the state will talk to local governments about possibly contracting with the state to provide local DMV services in return for a percentage of the fees collected on vehicle registration, licenses, road tests and the like. That is done now in more than a dozen Alaska communities, including Kotzebue, Seward, Tok and Trapper Creek.
The state also plans to work with the affected areas to increase the DMV services that can be accessed over the Internet and by mail, Miller said.
DMV offices are closing, according to Miller, because of a budget cut of about $500,000 proposed by Gov. Frank Murkowski and accepted by the Legislature. The Murkowski administration figured out how to swallow the cut through an analysis of what offices are used least. About 10 employees will lose their jobs, Miller said.
The closures could be felt most in places such as Sitka on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska, and in Nome, where residents also do not have the option of driving to the DMV in another town.
Sitka city administrator Hugh Bevan said that despite what state officials have said publicly, the DMV told him the Sitka closure is not final. Regardless, he said, state officials are apparently working on a plan to keep services going in some fashion in Sitka.
''It's hard for me to believe they are going to shut the doors in the next three weeks without any contingency plan,'' he said.
In Delta Junction, about 100 miles from the closest DMV office in Fairbanks, talks started Thursday about how to arrange a contractor to take over the local services right after city manager Pete Hallgren found out about the plan that morning.
The governor signed a bill Monday that increases fees for registering cars and most other vehicles by $10 to $16 a year.
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