CALDWELL, Idaho — Wait times for driver's license services in Canyon County have doubled in the past five years, one county official estimates.
The influx of residents moving to the Treasure Valley, and the scramble for the Star Card, have contributed to longer-than-normal wait times at the Ada and Canyon County driver's license offices, according to Department of Motor Vehicles officials in each county.
Cpl. Darin Freiburghaus, supervisor of the Canyon County drivers' license office, said when he started with the DMV four-and-a-half years ago, average wait times were around 30 to 45 minutes. Since August, the average wait time has been an hour and 15 minutes, according to a report from the Idaho Press.
In Ada County, the average customer wait time for driver’s license has been 57 minutes since Labor Day. That's on par with the yearly average wait time of one hour, said Christopher Saunders, manager for the Ada County Center for Data Analytics and Intelligence.
As both Ada and Canyon County deal with growth and the influx of out-of-state licenses needing to be transferred to Idaho licenses, both county driver’s license offices are coming up with ways to address long wait times.
In Canyon County, 13 employees, including the corporal, work in the office, include three-part time staff. One staff member is dedicated exclusively to sex offender registrations and concealed weapons permits, and another splits their time between sex offender registrations and concealed weapons permits and driver's licenses.
Joe Decker, Canyon County spokesman, said the driver's license office is adding one new full-time position, and the vehicle registration office, run by the Canyon County Assessor's Office, is adding two new positions.
Decker said hiring challenges are due to the lack of space in the driver's license office, since there are only one or two open windows for additional employees to work.
In Ada County, 26 employees work at the driver’s license office, including supervisors. Two more employees are starting in the next two weeks, and the county is hiring for two more positions.
“We are able to add those four new positions because the Ada County Board of Commissioners approved adding four more driver’s license clerks to our current staff for fiscal year 2020, which started Oct. 1,” Ada County Sheriff's Office spokesman Patrick Orr said in an email. “Adding those positions will help us keep as many of our 21 stations open as possible at the 400 Benjamin Lane office.”
Ada County is looking to find and lease a new driver’s license office in western Ada County. The board of commissioners budgeted $500,000 for the new location.
The Ada County driver's license office expanded its hours in recent years to open at 7:30 a.m and close at 5:30 p.m. The Canyon County driver's license hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Ada County office also introduced an online appointment system to schedule appointments up to three months from the current day. Orr said the office added an employee to answer phone calls from citizens with general questions or who want to know what the wait time is. The office does not have its wait times published online, and it added a clerk in the lobby to make sure people have the appropriate documentation to renew their license. The clerks are also on 10-hour shifts, he said, to help with staffing.
“Those moves were all done to help combat Ada County’s exploding population,” Orr said. “We are constantly looking for ways to reduce wait times and improve customer experience.”
Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling, who praised the Canyon County Sheriff's Office for their work at the DMV, said she had concerns with the wait times, particularly for Canyon County residents. She has had to make multiple trips to the Canyon County driver's license office for her husband to obtain a Star Card.
"My concern is the hardship that our local citizens are dealing with," she said. "It goes from kids having to leave school and miss school because of the long wait times and not even getting through, or seniors having to make multiple trips and employees having to take time off."
OUT-OF-STATE LICENSE TRANSFERS
Freiburghaus estimates 10 to 12 people at any given time are at the Canyon County DMV to transfer to an Idaho license.
"Our county and state is growing by leaps and bounds," he said. "… So you have that, and the added customer load for the people wanting to get the Star Card. Those two factors are our big factors."
Decker said the Canyon County driver’s license office is still trying to keep up with the backlog that the Idaho Transportation Department system malfunction created a year ago, when a software upgrade to the ITD computer system caused shutdowns of DMVs across the state. Even before the upgrade, Decker said the sheriff's office, which staffs the DMV, had headaches related to the ITD system for years.
Helping customers obtain a Star Card has also lengthened service times.
“(The wait times are) more than a third of what it should be with all the new growth and the Star Card,” Decker said. “We are transferring people over from out of state who may have renewed their license a year or two ago, but need to be transferred to Idaho.”
Kelli Bolicek, administrative services bureau director, who manages the driver's license office in Ada County, said the office has stopped seeing the overflow from the ITD malfunction, but they are dealing with an influx of customers with out-of-state licenses and the Star Card.
The Canyon County office has served over 16,000 customers since Aug. 1 and had a maximum wait time of about three-and-a-half hours.
According to records from the Canyon County driver's license office, from Aug. 1 to Oct. 25, almost 21,200 people walked in, and 16,159 people were served; leaving around 5,000 customers who were not helped. That is because the office aims to close by 4 p.m. Decker said the corporal will determine how long the lines are and will make announcements in the early afternoon about taking any new customers.
The office on Oct. 25 saw wait times of up to three hours, Decker said, so the corporal stopped taking new people after 2:45 p.m.
Decker said the county does not have the overtime hours available to continue serving people after the office closes.
The Ada County driver's license office is open until 5:30 p.m. and Orr said “if you show up at 5:25 p.m. and pull a ticket, we will stay open to complete that transaction.”
Both Ada and Canyon County driver's license office officials said the main problems they are seeing with the Star Card is that people have to come back two or even three times before they bring all of the necessary documentation with them.
"We are seeing a lot of people come in to get the Star Card, and they don't bring in the proper documents," Bolicek said. "Instead of us touching that person one time to get one license, it is two or three times and it is causing longer wait times."
Ada County added someone to the front of their driver's license office to check people's documents before they get a number and wait in line, however Bolicek said people often pass by the document checker, thinking they have all their documents.
"I would estimate at probably any given time, about a third of the people sitting in our office would not need to be here if it wasn't for the Star Card," Freiburghaus said.
He added that people "who are not yet due for renewal" want to get a Star Card.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, people will need either a Star Card, U.S. Passport, military identification, or some other form of federally accepted ID to board a flight, even a domestic flight. Freiburghaus said that gave the DMVs about two-and-a-half years, from when they started issuing Star Cards in 2018, to "shove eight years' worth of people through our DMVs," considering Idaho issues driver's licenses that last eight years.
"It is going to get worse," he said.
He also agreed that people do not know what documentation they need to get a Star Card and continue returning until they get the correct documents.
"I have devoted myself to pre-screen folks when they come in," Freiburghaus said. "About every half-hour to an hour, I will make an announcement and say, 'If you need information about the Star Card, come up and talk to me,' because many, many people do not have everything they need. So instead of waiting here for two hours to then be told that you do not have what you need, come up and talk to me before. I devote a majority of my time to do that."
To find the acceptable documents to obtain a Star Card, people can go to the ITD website and both county DMV websites.
More from our partner Idaho Press: Taxpayer-funded mailer from Fulcher violated House franking rule
Watch more 'Growing Idaho':
See them all in our YouTube playlist: