Missouri license agents and several lawmakers want more funding to help rural license offices at risk of closing because of financial losses and limited state support.

Marble Hill didn’t have a license bureau for several years, forcing Bollinger County residents to travel to other cities to obtain or renew their driver’s licenses and license plate tags. Marian Hutchings opened a license bureau in the city in 2017 after winning a bid from the state, but she told the Southeast Missourian that she’s losing money and might not be able to keep the office open much longer.

Most of the money that license offices collect goes to the state, and operators make revenue from transaction fees. Missouri sets the transaction fee rates.

Hutchings said the license office collected more than $44,000 from transaction fees in its first year in operation, but expenses totaled more than $45,000.

“If I don’t have $200 a day, I am not paying my bills,” Hutchings said.

Republican Rep. Rick Francis said the state needs to change its rules or more communities could lose their license bureau. Francis has proposed legislation to allow small license offices to keep more of the revenue they collect.

He introduced a measure that would let license operators turn over less money to the state if the office collects less than $20,000 in transaction fees over a three-month period.

The proposal will help small offices without raising fees for the consumer, Francis said.

Republican Sen. Sandy Crawford proposed a bill that would increase the maximum fee for various license transactions from the current $2.50 or $3 rate to $6.

Gina Raffety operates four license offices in southeast Missouri and supports the $6 fee hike proposal.

“It has become more and more difficult because the profit margins are currently very low and get lower every year,” Raffety said.

She said the state used to cover most office expenses, but now the costs have been shifted onto license agents, who have to pay everything from paper and postage to toner.

Raffety and Hutchings both said that their license offices have to compete with the state’s online renewals, which eliminate the need for their businesses.

“If something doesn’t happen with the fees soon, I think you will see smaller offices close because the operating costs are too high to be profitable,” she said.

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