Clerk gets some backing from lawmakers at budget hearing

Published Oct 17, 2018 at 4:00pm

Oneida County Clerk Sandy DePerno, facing a rare challenge to re-election to a fourth term over how the local Division of Motor Vehicles offices are run, blamed problems largely on burgeoning demand for enhanced driver’s licenses and lack of personnel — and got some backing from some county legislators.

Former Republican New Hartford county legislator David Gordon is running against DePerno on a platform of fixing delays at the DMV such as by using automated kiosks at convenient locations apart from county property.

Gordon was not at Tuesday’s hearing of the Oneida County Legislature Ways and Means Committee on the 2019 budget for the county clerk’s office.

Instead, DePerno, under questioning from committee members, said much of the blame for long lines and service delays at the DMV offices in Rome and Utica comes from drivers applying for enhanced driver’s licenses and Real ID, which will be required to board domestic airline flights after Oct. 1, 2020 for anyone without a current passport. Applications for them must be made in-person, not online or by mail.

DePerno and DMV supervisor Lisa Vane told lawmakers that much of the problem is that when drivers fill out an application, the information is electronically sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which checks against a database of terrorism suspects, then relays the OK back to the local office. It can take 30 to 40 minutes, DePerno said.

She said she asked for two full-time positions last year but the legislature funded only one. Committee chair James D’Onofrio, Republican of New Hartford, said the blame then lies with the legislature.

“Last year you asked for more people, and we didn’t give it to you. That’s the fault of this board of legislators,” D’Onofrio said.

Minority leader Phil Sacco, like DePerno a Democrat, praised her work, noting her department received less county appropriations for 2018 yet shows a profit.

The DMV receives a share of license and registration-related fees from the state for transactions conducted locally, and other clerk’s offices divisions generate revenue from such things as hunting and fishing licenses, and naturalization. Revenue is $880,000 versus $799,000 at this time last year, DePerno said.

DePerno was asked if Oneida County has to have a DMV office, since registering vehicles and drivers is a state function. No, she said, and a couple of upstate counties and in the New York City area don’t have local DMV offices.

But providing the service generates some revenue and serves residents, including those with difficult cases and residents who are refugees, she said. It also means lawmakers would be cutting jobs, she noted.

“You’re looking at laying off 27 people.”

Kiosks would still require upkeep, may be down with the state DMV computer network, and would still mean people with problem cases seeking in-person help, DePerno said.

DePerno also defended her decision to open the DMV offices later and staying open later in the afternoon on certain days of each week. It’s a way to help people who cannot leave work during the day. Gordon has complained that the result is inconsistent, confusing hours.

A brief exchange ensued between D’Onofrio and majority leader George Joseph, who questioned whether discussion of complaints is relevant during budget review. D’Onofrio defended taking them on.

“The whole process is criticizing not just the county clerk but the county of Oneida,” D’Onofrio said.