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Delays continue for awarding state license office bids

Revenue Department is slow to respond to applicants, citing COVID-19 issues

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After first submitting bids last year for state license offices it manages, the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks is among many agencies across Missouri still awaiting word on their fate.

The BCFO operates five state license offices in southwest Missouri, each of which had contracts expiring at the end of 2019, said Joe Daues, the nonprofit’s CEO. They are among roughly 180 license offices statewide under the authority of the Missouri Department of Revenue and the Office of Administration division of purchasing.

Daues and others say bid award delays from the state agencies for all of the license offices have persisted through this year, with no explanation offered by state officials. He said the state has granted temporary three-month extensions throughout 2020 but has provided no timetable for when a decision on the five-year contracts would be made. The nonprofit manages a Springfield license office at 1002 S. Glenstone Avenue, as well as offices in Nixa, Ozark, Republic and Joplin.

“This is my first go-around with license contract renewals. So I’m learning as I go,” said Daues, who took over as the nonprofit leader in July 2019. “We’ve been on the bubble for a year now.”

Dave Koester, who manages eight license offices in the state, including Branson’s through Koester & Koester LLC, said he’s also been awaiting bid results and is uncertain of the reasons behind the delays.

Department of Revenue spokesperson Anne Marie Moy cited the coronavirus pandemic as a contributor to the delay. She said there is no updated timeline of when the five-year contracts would be awarded.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges and subsequent priority procurement efforts create additional (requests for proposals) to be evaluated and awarded,” she said via email.

Bidding competition
All of the BCFO-managed license offices, which operate under BCFO Titleworks Inc., face bidding competition, Daues said. Among the applicants for the five offices are Gerard Armon Group LLC, CGB Holdings LLC, DMV Operations LLC, License Office Services and The Sister Project LLC, according to state documents.

In Missouri secretary of state filings, former BCFO Executive Director Crystal Webster is listed as an organizer for both CGB Holdings and The Sister Project. Webster declined to comment for this story. Daues took over for Webster in mid-2019.

The open bidding process began in 2009 under Gov. Jay Nixon, which changed the longtime tradition of awarding license office contracts to the Missouri governor’s political supporters and family members, according to Springfield Business Journal archives.

Last year, the state legislature approved license office fee increases, which equated to more than $47.6 million in processing fees for all contractors statewide in fiscal 2020, according to state data. The total was around a 36% increase from fiscal 2019.

Annual vehicle registration fees increased to $6 from $3.50. Processing for a three-year driver’s license rose to $6 from $2.50, and driver’s licenses of longer than three years jumped to $12 from $5, according to the Department of Revenue.

Fee increases
Around 45 employees work at the BCFO’s license offices, Daues said, noting the fee increases were used for the workers’ benefit. According to state data, the five offices managed by BCFO generated nearly $2.5 million in processing fees during fiscal 2020. The Glenstone Avenue office was the top grosser of the five with nearly $817,000, followed by Joplin’s office at roughly $695,000.

Daues said 30% raises were given to all employees of its five license offices. Additionally, health, vision and dental benefits were offered for the first time.

“I felt it was the responsible thing to do since the state allowed us to collect more money for these transactions,” he said. “Many of these people were making $9, $10 an hour. We wanted to make sure we started compensating them appropriately.”

The nonprofit helps those diagnosed with breast cancer with household financial needs, such as rent, car payments and utilities, as well as free mammograms and support groups, according to its website. Daues said money BCFO makes from the license office has traditionally been used to cover its administrative costs.

“This changed this year with the higher fees we were allowed to charge,” he said. “We were able to cover some of our program costs with some of that money from the license office.”

Daues said he’s hopeful about the nonprofit’s chances with the state bidding process. However, he said during SBJ’s 12 People You Need to Know live interview Nov. 17 that BCFO has another opportunity in the works that could replace the license office revenue.

He declined to disclose details of the alternative, only calling it “a big one that we’ve been considering for a year now.”

Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.

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