MN Senate panel questions MNLARS call center funds

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton wants more people answering the phone and responding to emails at the state’s Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) office.

Dayton’s supplemental budget proposal includes $7.3 million in general fund spending for fiscal 2019 to hire an additional 63 employees. He’s proposing to use another $11 million from a DVS account in the next biennium.

The Public Information Center at DVS currently has 43 employees. Calls and complaints have increased since last summer’s rocky launch of the new vehicle licensing and registration system, known as MNLARS.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman told members of the Senate transportation committee Wednesday that more people are needed to improve customer service.

“The current staffing level is not sufficient to handle the volume of calls coming into the department, which leads to Minnesotans not receiving the assistance that they need and that they deserve,” Dohman said.

Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, questioned why such a big staff increase is needed when MNLARS is supposed to be working better and generating fewer complaints. Dohman said the staffing request was based on pre-MNLARS call volume.

DVS has already begun beefing up its call center staffing, tapping money already allocated to the Department of Public Safety from the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund (HUTDF) to hire 26 temporary employees.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, pressed Dohman about that decision.

“You do understand that the HUTDF fund is to be used for highway purposes?” Newman asked.

Dohman said she believed it to be an appropriate use of the money, because the agency is answering the questions of “Minnesotans who use the roads and highways.”

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