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DMV computer glitches delay transactions

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CANTON - Statewide problems with the Department of Motor Vehicle computer system has meant delays to process paperwork and has been a headache for local offices.

For the last two months, the system has intermittently frozen, sometimes shutting down for a half hour at a time.

“They’re constantly down, especially at our busiest times. It’s been more of a pain than anything,” St. Lawrence County Clerk Mary Lou Rupp said. “It has been slightly better recently.”

Rather than wait in line, clerks are encouraging customers to drop off what transactions they can and have the local office mail back the documents, Mrs. Rupp said.

“We apologize. We let people know it’s not a local issue,” she said. “I think people are pretty understanding.”

The problems have not affected the timeliness of the county’s extensive business with downstate dealers handling registrations, Mrs. Rupp said.

“We’re still on top of it,” she said.

The up-and-down nature of the problem is a hassle, although it is doubtful it has cost Lewis County any customers, said Douglas P. Hanno, Lewis County clerk.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “The state knows they have a problem. They don’t know how long until it will be fixed.”

Employees cannot tell customers how long until they can process transactions.

“It would be nice if we could tell them to come back at a certain time,” Mr. Hanno said. “Instead we just don’t know if it’ll be five minutes or hours.”

In Jefferson County, the computer problems in recent weeks have been minimal, according to County Clerk Gizelle J. Meeks.

“It hasn’t happened enough to us for it to be a big deal,” she said.

That is not to say the county’s DMV has not faced problems connected to technical issues.

A larger problem is her office dealing with customers who come into the local DMV after having difficulties renewing their registrations online.

“They’re encouraging people to go to their website, but they’re not following through with getting them out on time, and so they’re coming to us,” Ms. Meeks said.

The Jefferson County DMV added a $3 fee to recoup the cost of its aid, which led to the office receiving a stern email from the state. Ms. Meeks said the tension between covering costs and following state guidance left the county office “in a hard place.”

“It’s not the customer’s fault. You hate to impose the fee on them. They did what they were supposed to do,” she said. “At the same time, I have to pay a full-time clerk to wait on them.”

Computer issues have been further complicated due to the state’s consolidation of information technology departments, Mr. Hanno said.

“We used to have a dedicated IT department for the DMV,” he said. “Now the state shares an IT department.”

County clerks have long encouraged residents to have their local DMVs handle transactions, either in person or through the mail, because counties then receive 12.7 percent of the revenue. With transactions that are taken care of over the website or sent to Albany, the state keeps all of the money.

“It’s a wait if somebody sends it to the state,” Mrs. Rupp said. “That’s another reason to do it locally.”

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Staff writers Gordon Block and Christina Scanlon contributed to this story.

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