Area DMVs to start limited in-person services

The Lewis County Department of Motor Vehicles will reopen for limited in-person visits on June 17, by appointment only. Julie Abbass/Watertown Daily Times

LOWVILLE — North country departments of motor vehicles each have their own approach to reopening offices for in-person services based on state guidelines issued earlier this month, but there are some things that remain the same in all three counties.

With the anticipated number of people waiting for in-person services to return, all DMVs will continue to do as much business as possible via mail, drop box and on the state website.

Those transactions include vehicle, boat or trailer registrations; replacement documents; plate surrenders, which require a $1 payment to be included in the drop; address changes; payments of penalties, fees and assessments; and requests for driver abstracts.

While fees paid on the state website go to the state, those done by mail or drop box stay local.

“It’s been great having all these people who still want to keep money in St. Lawrence County.” said County Clerk Sandra W. Santamooor of the high volume of mail they have received in the past few months.

The DMVs in all three counties will have required safety measures in place, like clear plastic panels and easily accessible hand sanitizer, set up for the return of customers and everyone entering DMV buildings for appointments will be expected to wear masks.

DMV staffs are asked to wear masks when helping customers and will frequently clean surfaces in public areas between appointments.

While state guidelines have allowed each department to open in their own way, one service, Class D permits for new drivers, will remain on hold until further notice, although there was no indication as to why, according to all three north country county clerks.

That, however, is the most called-about service across the board.

“There are a lot of 16-year-olds out there that want to get their permits and take their road test,” Mrs. Santamoor said. “It’s all about keeping them safe and hopefully they understand that.”

Lewis County Clerk Jake Moser echoed that sentiment, saying he had been hearing from “many adamant mothers” with teenagers eager to drive.

While he has driving permits slated for the third stage of his in-person services roll out plan for the Lowville DMV, no date will be set without the state go-ahead to do so, he said.

The first state of that plan created in collaboration with the DMV team will begin on June 17, allowing appointments for county residents seeking permit testing or renewals for commercial driving licenses only.

“CDL licenses are stage 1 because these people drive for a living,” Mr. Moser said.

Although license renewal dates were extended indefinitely in this state because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many truck drivers go out of state to where there is no exemption, he said, and have reported experiencing issues at weigh stations for having expired licenses.

Some in-state insurance companies also haven’t been acknowledging expired licenses that could not yet be renewed.

Mr. Moser and the DMV staff will schedule appointments via a dedicated phone line so that no more than five visitors are in the office at any one time, ensuring social distancing and staff availability.

“I only have five people in that office — four examiners and one full-time clerk — to go through the unprecedented amount of mail that has come through, answer phones to give information and now, to make appointments and then to see in-person customers, too,” Mr. Moser said.

The second stage will open the door for in-person transactions by appointment to apply for a standard or enhanced driving license or Real ID; amend existing licenses or registrations; change registration or license information; exchange an out of state license; and motorcycle permit testing.

Mr. Moser said the second stage date was left open in order to be responsive to the ever-evolving situation as the economy reopens.

Both Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties will not use a staged approach, instead allowing people to schedule appointments for all in-person services except Class D driving permits from the first day of limited reopening.

For the Jefferson County DMV, that will be on June 22, according to Clerk Gizelle J. Meeks.

“Every visitor will be asked three screening questions and of course we’ll shoot them with some sanitizer gel.” Ms. Meeks said, “There will probably be no wait time for customers with these appointments.”

She has planned for her team to service about 10 customers every 30 minutes totalling about 80 to 100 transaction a day, depending on what service they need, but some staff members will continue to work on the mailed-in and drop box requests.

Ms. Meeks said there are currently only five out of 11 staff members working at the DMV with five people still on furlough and one on unpaid medical leave, so staffing limits have informed her plan.

In St. Lawrence County, Mrs. Santamoor said no date will be set for in-patient services at the four DMV offices around the county until some clarification has been provided by state DMV leadership.

“As far as I’m concerned we haven’t gotten the definite date from the governor. They’re saying Phase III and other county clerks are saying they’re going to open next week, so I feel I haven’t got a good answer as to when we should be doing that safely.” she said.

In the interim, the offices in Ogdensburg, Massena, Gouverneur and Canton are having new COVID-19 safety measures added, like face-level clear plastic panels to shield clerks and customers, and as many details as possible are being planned in preparation for when a date can be set.

Mrs. Santamoor said in the smaller offices, like Gouverneur, Massena and Ogdensburg, only two customers will be scheduled for appointments at the same time.

“We’ll try to manage the appointments to avoid people running into each other. It’s certainly not going to be the way it has been in the past,” she said, “We’re all doing our best to provide the services we can safely.”

Reopening updates for St. Lawrence County will be posted on the DMV website at https://www.stlawco.org/Departments/CountyClerk/DMV.

In Lewis County, appointments can be made by calling 315-376-9729. For all DMV questions, call 315-376-5331.

To schedule an appointment at the Jefferson County DMV, go to https://jeffersoncountywatertowndmv.setmore.com/ on any computer or smart phone.

Email questions to dmv@co.jefferson.ny.us

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