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Closure Of Multiple License Plate Agencies Has DMV Scrambling

By Jenny Callison, posted Nov 22, 2023
Residents of Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties who need to visit a Department of Motor Vehicles license plate agency will likely have to drive farther for the foreseeable future.

The longer treks are caused by the closure of locations in Hampstead, Wilmington and Southport. As of Dec. 21, the license plate agency (LPA) in Shallotte will be shuttered for a while as well. A bit further afield, the LPA in Jacksonville was closed just last week.

“In North Carolina, the NCDMV oversees LPAs, but the agencies are managed by private businesses or local governments,” Marty Homan, the state’s DMV communications manager, said Monday. “We have 120-odd license agencies. When one closes for any reason – the contract is up and the operator wants to retire, for example – we advertise for another contractor. We had to shut down the Southport and Jacksonville LPAs because of repeated contract violations, which are usually paperwork errors or problems with notarization.”

The Hampstead location at 14687 U.S. 17 closed Aug. 20 with the retirement of the contractor who had operated it since 1994. DMV officials have a prospective new contractor but have hit another snag, Homan said.
“Now the issue is finding an office space; it wasn’t held for us and the landlord leased it out to someone else,” he said. “We are working with the potential operator to find a location in Hampstead. With the Jacksonville office closing last week, that puts us in a bind.”
 
On September 21, the DMV issued a news release advertising for a new Wilmington contractor when officials learned the current operator of the agency in the Market Plaza Shopping Center at 13 S. Kerr Ave. was retiring the next day, when his contract was up. The contractor, who had operated the agency since 2003, had failed to notify the DMV of his plans.
 
The only current LPA in Wilmington is at 2390 Carolina Beach Road.
 
“It’s frustrating,” Homan said, adding that contractors come and go, but usually there is enough time before an LPA closure to recruit and prepare a new person. But these past two months in Southeast North Carolina, “we’ve been hard hit,” he said.
 
“It takes time to find another contractor, and once you do, running an office is not something you can decide to do and start next day or next month,” Homan continued. “The process is, we call for applications and have a 30-day window to take applications. Then we go through those applications and select some [applicants] for an interview. A recommendation is made to the DMV commissioner as to whom to hire, and the commissioner makes the decision. Then office space needs to be located, staff need to be trained. The IT infrastructure is hard-lined into the state system, so the process takes longer than we like; it can’t happen overnight.”
 
The Shallotte LPA, at 5300 S. Main St., is closing because the contractor, who has operated it since 1982, decided to retire when the current contract expires. Efforts are underway to solicit applications from prospective contractors.
 
When DMV officials shut down the Southport LPA last January, they initially had no plans to open another, but have since decided to look for a replacement contractor and location in town, Homan said. There is a county-operated LPA at the Brunswick County complex in Bolivia, he added.
 
LPAs offer vehicle registration services and title transactions, as well as vehicle license plate renewals, replacement tags and duplicate registrations. If a vehicle is bought through a dealer, that dealer normally takes care of getting the plate and handling paperwork for the buyer, Homan explained. But people moving to North Carolina or those buying a car in a private sale need to visit an LPA.

Anyone interested in applying to operate an LPA, or anyone with a suitable location for lease, can learn more about opportunities at the Connect NCDOT website. Interested applicants may also call 919-615-8521 with questions. To learn the current status of calls for applications, click here.
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