Motor Vehicle Services Face COVID-Caused Backlog

Department struggles to keep up with the volume of service requests, unsure when lobby will reopen to public

By Micah Drew
Specialty license plates. Beacon file photo

Flathead County’s motor vehicle department has been operating with a nearly full staff even as the department lobby has been closed to visitors due to COVID-19.

Despite the continual work, however, services are being overwhelmed, leading to a backlog.

The department isn’t scheduling any in-person appointments, but County Treasurer Adele Krantz said “we’re doing everything that we can by telephone, by drop box, by mail.”

“We try to do everything anybody needs done, somehow,” Krantz said. “If we need a signature, we can do that with email, but we’re just restricted with space.”

Some services are easily accomplished online, such as vehicle registration renewals, and can usually be processed within a day or two. Others, such as title transfers, are currently backlogged. The turnaround for transfers is about two weeks, according to Krantz.

Over the next few weeks, the motor vehicle department will be evaluating the number of COVID-19 cases throughout the state to determine whether it will be able to fully open in the near future, especially once Phase Three is implemented.

“My lobby isn’t huge, so it’s hard to have the six-foot deal, so that’s what we’re struggling with now,” Krantz said. “I know there’s creative ways to do it — you can set up phone systems and text people to come in — but we haven’t done that yet, so we’re still struggling to figure out the best and safest way for employees and customers.”

For vehicles purchased after March 16, the state has granted a 90-day extension for title transfer, which is aimed at easing the volume of work at the department. But employees have still been working overtime to get caught up. The inability to conduct business in person is hampering the department’s progress, and if it’s not able to open soon over the summer, Krantz says employees will be forced to continue working long hours to keep pace.

Krantz would love to welcome more employees into the building than the current six, “but realistically it would be hard to do.”

“If I could get 50 in here, that would be awesome because it’s going to be hellacious when it opens, but that isn’t realistic,” she said.

In preparation for reopening, the office has installed Plexiglas dividers and is working on plans for comprehensive sanitizing for in-person interactions. Noting that it’s always busier in the summer with increased volume, Krantz said the department has already been overwhelmed with titles, renewals and phone calls.

“We’re anxious to open back up,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to have a customer standing in front of us and be able to explain things than over the phone or the website.”

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