Tough times force two local SOS branch offices to consolidate under plan

By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers

The Secretary of State office in Wyandotte will be closed and consolidated into the agency’s Trenton office as part of the Branch Office Modernization Program.

The Trenton location will become the Downriver Area PLUS Office, which will be “lighter, brighter and easier to get in and out of,” said Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

No specific time frame has been established for the move, which comes as part of the “third wave” of the modernization program that began in 2004. Chesney said the consolidation continues “efforts to proactively manage existing resources,” and that some of the planned projects could begin before year’s end.

“It’s no secret that the economy is not improving anytime soon,” she said.

Twenty-two PLUS offices and five SUPER!Centers were created in the initial phase. Additional rollouts have added 16 PLUS offices and another SUPER!Center for a current total of 38 PLUS offices and six SUPER!Centers.

The next round features 10 new PLUS offices and an additional SUPER!Center, as well as expansions of certain existing PLUS offices.

Three PLUS offices will be created in Wayne County in the latest phase. The Detroit Downtown office will consolidate into the Detroit Vernor office to form the Southwest Detroit PLUS Office. In addition, the Highland Park office will consolidate into the Hamtramck office to form the Hamtramck/Highland Park Area PLUS Office.

The program already has consolidated a number of smaller offices like Wyandotte with its 2,373 square feet into larger ones because they simply can’t operate at full capacity, Chesney said. The number of Secretary of State employees has been reduced by 20 percent in recent years through attrition, she said, and many offices have a hard time covering breaks at peak times when more staff members are needed at counters.

The Wyandotte office currently has five employees, three of them full time; the Trenton office has six total. Some of the Wyandotte employees will be shifted to Trenton, while others will go to other branches. Specific moves have not yet been determined, Chesney said.

Online Secretary of State services have reduced the number of customers in all offices, she said. From 2002 to this year, the number of transactions has declined in both Wyandotte (16 percent) and Trenton (60 percent). Trenton was chosen as the consolidation spot because of its larger size, 4,700 square feet, and proximity to Wyandotte (seven miles south).

The new Trenton PLUS center will include a self-service station outside the main office area in the entryway so that can customers can avail themselves 24 hours a day, seven days a week of the ability to scan license plate tab renewal notices, pay and go. The office also will include a customer service specialist, who will find out what customers are there to do and make sure they have the proper documentation before they even approach the service counter.

Chesney said the specialist concept has proven “very popular” and helps serve customers better.

The Downriver Area PLUS Office will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

“The Secretary of State is continuing her successful effort to deliver quality service that recognizes changing customer trends and Michigan’s fiscal realities,” Chesney said.

Land is creating additional PLUS offices and another SUPER!Center so that more customers have access to enhanced services such as expanded Wednesday hours (9 a.m. to 7 p.m.), payment with Discover and MasterCard at the counter, instant vehicle titles and Self-Service Stations for immediate plate tab renewals. SUPER!Centers offer what officials say are popular Saturday hours as well.

“We always have our eye toward the future,” Land said. “Customer trends continue to evolve and we’re keeping pace. We are proactively managing our limited resources so we can provide quality services while operating in Michigan’s current budget climate. Fortunately, our modernization program provides us with a proven blueprint for success.”

Factors such as statewide population shifts and surging customer enthusiasm for doing business online compel the department to adjust its branch office system for optimal results, officials say. For example, there were 2 million fewer branch office transactions in fiscal year 2009 than in fiscal year 2007.

Land said she aggressively manages her agency’s resources to ensure maximum focus on customer service and program efficiency. In addition to staff reductions, she has consolidated office space and invested in cost-saving technology.

“Our long-range planning and tough decisions are paying off,” she said. “The department is positioned to balance the needs of customers with our state’s fiscal realities.

“Optimizing our use of people, dollars and technology reduces our investments in ‘bricks and mortar’ facilities while ensuring consistent levels of service. This prudent redirection of resources keeps us at the forefront of innovative service and fiscal responsibility.”

For more information on department services and branch office locations, go to www.Michigan.gov/sos.