Hope residents are bracing themselves for a Monday decision from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles about whether the town’s license branch will close July 25.
Some residents told BMV Commissioner Don Snemis, who heads the state agency, that closing the branch represents another loss that could damage the community’s future.
About a dozen residents attended a meeting Thursday night at Hauser High School to give Snemis and other bureau officials feedback on the possible closure.
Local accountant Greg Spurling, a member of the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp.’s board, offered to set up a bureau model that a former BMV commissioner told him might work. He told bureau officials that he would be willing to help the bureau create a branch with one employee located within an existing business.
But Snemis told him that model isn’t feasible.
Spurling said he would pursue that effort because closing Hope’s license branch, when combined with other losses, will eventually hurt the town.
If the license branch does close, it will be the second blow to Hope’s downtown in just over a year.
The first happened last February, when the town’s branch of First Financial Bank closed. The building, located in the same block as the license branch, now serves as the offices for the Hope Star-Journal newspaper. And while First Financial still owns the building and has an ATM there, the town now has only one bank — MainSource Bank, located in a strip mall on Hope’s south side.
Larry Simpson, who owns the newspaper, said small towns such as Hope already face enough threats.
He urged the bureau to consider what closing the branch would mean for the town — a loss of both prosperity and identity.
Snemis said while he understands the plight of the small town, the bureau has to use taxpayer money responsibly. And keeping the Hope branch open would not be a wise use of that money, he said.
The branch is the least-used license branch in the state by a landslide, Snemis said. It completed 3,983 transactions in the last year. In comparison, the next-least-used branch completed around 6,500 transactions.
While the branch has dodged closure two times before, there has been a “vast decline in use” since the last time the bureau considered closing it, Snemis said. Since 2007, usage has dropped nearly 57 percent, compared to a 30 percent drop across the entire state, he said.
Keeping the branch open would be costly, Snemis said, because the bureau would need to renovate the current location or move the branch.
Both options would be expensive, on top of the $34,000 the BMV already spends to operate the Hope branch each year.
But the bureau hasn’t taken any action that would increase traffic at the Hope branch, Spurling said. It hasn’t promoted the branch at nearby license branches in Columbus, Shelbyville and Greensburg. It hasn’t increased the services the branch offers, he said.
Simpson said the state agency has actually done the opposite.
The statistics the bureau is using to justify the closure, he said, stem from its own actions — cutting the branch’s hours and taking away services, such as the driving test, that would draw people to the branch.
“You’re getting the numbers you need to support closing,” Simpson said.
The decline in branch usage is real, and it’s happening at other license branches across the state, Snemis said. Trends show that people prefer to make transactions from the comfort of their homes, he said, and the bureau has to take that into consideration.
While he understands the closure would be an inconvenience to Hope residents, Snemis said it wouldn’t have much of an impact on their ability to complete transactions with the bureau. They could still conduct BMV business online or through mail, he said, and there are three branches located nearby.
Snemis told residents the closure isn’t final yet. Bureau officials will consider all of the feedback they received before making a decision, he said.
Spurling, though, said he isn’t optimistic about the outcome, as it seems like the closure is already a forgone conclusion.
While residents have won the fight to keep the license branch before, they’ve “evidently failed” this time, he said.