If You Don’t Live in Bismarck You May Be Paying Double for Some DMV Services

Last month a reader emailed me confused that when she went to the North Dakota Department of Motor Vehicles office in Minot to get her handicap cap renewed she paid more than double what it cost in Bismarck.

Here’s what she wrote (she asked not to be identified):

In January I stopped by the Bismarck Dept of Transportation office to get a 3 month handicapped tag for my car. I purchased one for my husband’s car and one for mine at $3 each for a total cost of $6.

I’m in physical therapy and am still having some mobility issues so since my 3 month tag expires on April 24th my doctor gave me another form for another 3 month tag. Since I live closer to Minot I went to the Minot office this second time.

The $6 tags in Bismarck cost me $15 in Minot for the exact same transaction and same purchase. In Minot I was hit with a “$6 Branch fee” and a “$3 convenience fee” on top of the $6 for 2 placards, all for the EXACT SAME PURCHASE on the EXACT SAME DEBIT CARD.

She provided me of a receipt from her Minot transaction. I’ve redacted some of the identifying information from it:

The branch fee is identified. The “convenience fee” charged was apparently because a debit card was used to pay for the transactions. But even without the convenience fee, the “branch fee” doubles the cost of the placard.

Why do these services cost double in Minot?

I reached out to Jamie Olson, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Transportation, and she said unless you’re getting your DMV services in Bismarck you’re paying more for them because of fees charged by branch offices run by local governments and private entities.

“Branch offices were developed in 1981 to meet the demand for motor vehicle services throughout North Dakota,” Olson told me in an email. “The branch offices are private entities which are funded by a fee structure set by North Dakota Administrative Code Chapter 37-12-06-01 which establishes what a branch office may charge. All branch locations have the ability to charge these fees although some may charge at varying rates depending on the branch location. The fees are intended to pay for the branch expenses such as building/rent, lights, staff, and equipment.”

“The only office that does not charge fees for the services provided is the Bismarck Central Office which is operated by NDDOT,” she added.

You can read the section of administrative code Olson references here. She also provided me the document below which indicates where the branch offices are located and who is running them.

Most of the branches are run by county governments and various iterations of the Chamber of Commerce as well as some private interests. The only really controversial thing I see in the list is the involvement of the Chamber.

That’s a fine organization, one promoting views I largely agree with, but they are politically active. Is it appropriate that an organization which spends money on electing and lobbying politicians also be engaged in collecting revenue from providing official government services?

I’m not so sure, though part of that debate should be availability of DMV services. It’s one thing to complain about the Chamber’s involvement. It’s another to find another entity willing to run a DMV office to serve rural citizens in smaller communities like Devils Lake and Grafton.

As for the higher fees, I can see where it might be a little frustrating for some people, but what’s the alternative? To have the state run these branch offices directly? What would be the cost to taxpayers then?

I suspect it would be a significantly higher cost than these fees represent.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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