Slidell residents who need to renew a driver’s license or conduct other business at the Office of Motor Vehicles office on Lindberg Drive will have to pay more if the City Council adopts a $3 per transaction fee next month.
But residents might be less upset if they realize the money generated would help defray the cost of the building’s rental, utilities and maintenance — something that city officials hope would ensure the state keeps the location open.
Stephen Campbell, administrator of the state Office of Motor Vehicles, said Friday that he first approached Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan a year ago about having the city take over responsibility for the lease when it comes up for renewal. More than 40 OMV locations throughout the state have that arrangement, Campbell said.
There are no plans to close the Slidell location, he said, and having the city take over the lease would “short-circuit any discussion of that.’’
Drennan couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but City Administrator Tim Mathison said the mayor was concerned about the Slidell office’s future.
Council Vice President Bill Borchert said Drennan thinks Slidell would be wise to charge the transaction fee because Mandeville already does so at its OMV office, and Slidell doesn’t want to be at a disadvantage in keeping an office.
The rent for the Slidell office, owned by businessman Chris Jean, is $133,000 a year, Borchert said. He described it as an attractive deal for the state that includes maintenance and other costs. “They don’t even have to change a light bulb,’’ he said.
State law allows local governments to tack on the $3 fee to defray the cost of operations, including facility rental, utilities and maintenance. The fee does not apply to all transactions — for example, motor vehicle registrations are exempt — but it does apply to driver’s licenses, which Campbell said make up the bulk of the business.
The Slidell office performs 80,000 transactions per year, Borchert said, but that doesn’t mean it would get $240,000 in fees. Because of exemptions, the city estimates the fee would bring in about $15,000 less than the annual cost of the lease, Borchert said.
The building’s owner told Borchert he could make more money with a different tenant because he could charge a higher rent and also lease out more of the building. The OMV uses only 4,000 square feet of the 7,000-square-foot building, but the parking lot is so heavily used that finding a second tenant is not an option, Borchert said. Even so, Jean is willing for the OMV to stay, Borchert said.
Late last year, rumors of closure were rampant, and Campbell came to a City Council meeting in November to assure officials that the state was not planning to close the office.
At that time, he said the state was privatizing some functions, such as allowing public tag agents to handle driver’s license renewals, for example. He explained that was part of an effort to reduce waiting times.
He also pointed to the opening of an OMV office in New Orleans East as providing another option for Slidell residents.
But Borchert said the amount of traffic at the Slidell office has not decreased since the new location opened.
State law requires the Office of Motor Vehicles to have at least one location per parish and says it should be in the parish seat. St. Tammany has two offices, but neither is in Covington, which is the parish seat. But that isn’t likely to be an issue, Campbell said, noting that both Mandeville and Slidell have shown they want to keep their OMV offices and have been willing to work with the state.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.