Scotland County may find itself without a local license plate agency at the end of March, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Like most Department of Motor Vehicles license plate agencies in the state, the office in Laurinburg is privately owned and operated under contract with the state.
There are some 120 license offices in North Carolina. Only two, in Raleigh and Charlotte, are run by the state. About 20 are run by local city and county governments and chambers of commerce, but the vast majority are privately owned and operated.
In the event that no individual or business applies for the contract, the city and county may review the option of doing so.
“I would love to keep that service local; I don’t want our residents to have to drive out of town,” said Mayor Tommy Parker. “We would consider maybe jointly doing it with the county. That would be up to council but I would suggest it to them.”
Currently, the Laurinburg agency’s contract is held by Eva Deaton. She and her husband Herman Deaton took the agency over from the Chamber of Commerce in 1962, operating it in conjunction with Herman’s Tire Company.
“At the time they paid us 10 cents per transaction,” Deaton said. “When we had it all those years in our business it made a little money because we had no overhead. It’s been an experience, it really has. You certainly meet the public.”
Now 85, Deaton is getting out of the business.
“I don’t want to give it up, but I just think due to all our problems that it will be best,” said Deaton. “I’m hoping that Scotland County will not lose this bureau.”
Though many DMV services are available online, the Laurinburg license office processed some 50,000 applications annually in 2011 and 2012.
“The people we wait on are people that don’t have computers, who may be in a hurry and have left it until the last minute, the ones who don’t understand things, and the elderly,” said Deaton.
Deaton’s contract will expire on March 29, and the DMV is looking to extend it to another private party. The current agency has two employees, who are willing to continue on with a new contractor.
Contractors are responsible for maintaining their own office location and hiring their own employees, with at least one notary on staff. License plate agencies may also be combined with another form of business.
“We of course are looking for an individual or a company who can show that they have good business practices in the past, that they have been successful in business,” said Marge Howell, N.C. DMV communications officer. “They have to show that they are financially secure because it does take some upfront money to get established as a license plate agency.”
All fees collected by license offices are directed to the state, which then pays the contractor for each transaction - $1 for vehicle titles, $1.43 for vehicle registrations, and $1.27 for highway use taxes.
Following the closure of the Laurinburg agency, the closest license plate offices are located at 801 E. Broad Ave. in Rockingham and at 520 W. Donaldson St. in Raeford.
Applications for the license office contract can be found online at connect.ncdot.gov, navigate to Doing Business, then to DMV. Those interested can also call (919) 861-3332. The application deadline is March 29.