As of next week, the Petersburg Police Department will no longer be the place to take a driver’s test or get your state issued driver’s license or ID card. Those services will be moving up the hill to a private business that already issues titles and registrations for vehicles and boats. The change will mean expanded hours to apply for a license and lessen some of the workload for local police dispatchers.
Doc Lopez worked as a police dispatcher in Petersburg for 21 years before he retired last month. Among other duties, dispatchers have helped people fill out license application forms and issued the licenses.
“I’m guessing with the people I’ve spoken to, it sounds like drivers licenses have been issued by the city and now the borough I’m thinking maybe over 50 years,” Lopez said. Those services will no longer be available in the cozy front waiting room of the Petersburg Police Department in the municipal building. Instead they’ll be offered by through Petersburg Vehicle Title and Registration, a private business operated by Lopez and his wife Beverly for the past five years. The business is located in the Petersburg Indian Association’s Hallingstad-Peratrovich building.
Lopez said they are excited about the change. “Because my wife began this endeavor, me retiring felt like more like a double sided sticky tape,” he laughed. “You just can’t shake it loose,” she added.
Lopez said the license change was his wife’s idea and that it became possible when the state switched how it issued IDs last year. Only a government agency can issue the permanent drivers licenses and ID cards. But last June the state began giving out a temporary 60 day license, and then mailing a permanent license or ID card. That opened the door for a private business to begin issuing the temporary ID cards. “And as it was they were for the idea of consolidating licenses and ID cards and titles and registrations, which is commonplace in DMV,” he said. The Lopezes put in a bid and were awarded a three-year contract to provide the service.
“You know it does cost the state a little bit more money but I think that the customer service far outweighs what we are expending for it,” said Amy Erickson, director of the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles. “There’s going to be seamless service for everyone in Petersburg. And Beverly and Doc are really looking forward to servicing the community with a full spectrum of DMV transactions.”
The Lopez’s business already issues registrations and titles for vehicle, boats, trailers, four wheelers and snow mobiles, Monday through Friday from 1-5 in the afternoon. Those are expanded hours, the old service at the police department was only offered three days a week for three hours.
Petersburg police chief Kelly Swihart said he likes the idea of the change. “Any time we can move business to the private sector I think that helps us out,” he said. “But we were operating DMV at a small loss to the borough, so we’re no longer gonna have that cost. We’re gonna have less strain on the staff. Private enterprise is going to benefit and DMV’s gonna be open more days a week.”
Swihart estimated it has cost the borough between three and five thousand dollars a year to issue the drivers licenses, and provide driver tests, including road testing by police officers. He also thought it will be good to lighten the workload for the dispatchers. “It’s pretty difficult when we’re trying to run an operation that provides those services and take care of normal dispatch needs with the normal police fire and EMS calls that come in. And for folks, the dispatchers to manage the people being housed in the jail, they’re just wearing a lot of hats. So it’s definitely going to benefit the staff by taking one of those things off their plate.”
Police chief Swihart asked the public for patience during the transition. “Like you said we’ve been doing this a long time and there’s going to be a little transition there while we move equipment up to PVTR and they’ve gotta get the equipment installed and make sure it’s operating quickly so there will probably be a little transition time so folks just need to be aware of that and try to be patient with us as we make that transition.”
Saturday August 22nd will be the last day for DMV services at the police department. Petersburg Vehicle Title and Registration starts up their service on September 1st. Lopez also expects he’ll have to go through some training to be able to conduct road tests so new drivers may have to wait to pass that hurdle.