Michelle Cote: At no time was not providing the services in Crookston considered.
Although no one can say for certain if, long-term, license center/registrar services in Crookston will continue to be provided by Polk County or by the private sector, Michelle Cote, property records director for the county, says that the state has determined that the Crookston geographic area is “sustainable” for providing such services, should county officials decide to let private sector interests take them over.
While the Polk County commissioners discussed the current situation with Cote at their meeting last week, and it’s on their agenda once again when they next meet Feb. 27, things are kind of in a holding pattern right now, Cote explained, as she waits for the official documentation from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety indicating that the local area regarding its ability to sustain license center/registrar services.
The budget for the Polk County License Center, housed at the Polk County Government Center in Crookston, has dipped into the red in recent years. Although the county is not required by statute to directly provide the services, Cote said even as discussions about the license center’s future commenced last year, at no time was the county looking to discontinue the services for the Crookston area without having someone else pick up the slack.
The state requires that other governmental units have the first chance to offer the services, should the county step aside. The Crookston City Council last fall discussed the possibility of providing the services at city hall or possibly somewhere else downtown, but eventually decided to remain on the sidelines and give a private business the opportunity to step in. The thinking is that, although doing so adds to payroll and other operational costs, providing license center services, overall, would benefit a private business simply from all of the added customer traffic. For instance, in East Grand Forks, the Hardware Hank store provides license center/registrar services for residents living in that area.
Polk County officials can’t pick and choose who in the private sector might take over providing the services, Cote said. That’s entirely up to the state. “Our only involvement comes from assisting to ensure a smooth transition to whomever is appointed,” she explained. “The most important facet of our conversations has focused on continuity of customer service and the Polk County/Crookston community. …It has never been part of any conversation to just terminate the services, but to have a fiscally responsible discussion regarding county operations.”
Once Cote receives the paperwork she’s waiting for from the state DPS, the county board will take up the matter again, she said, and will have to decide to proceed with the caveat that if the state finds no appropriate candidate to provide license center/registrar services, the county will continue to provide the services in Crookston. “Or, we cease the conversation and continue with Polk County License Center business as usual,” Cote added.