LUMBERTON — The businessman who won the contract to operate the Department of Motor Vehicles office now in downtown Lumberton will move it to a new location on Lackey Street, but is not sure when that will happen.
“I’m not sure about that. The DMV folks haven’t let me know that,” said Aaron Thomas, president of Metcon Inc., adding that any move is not imminent.
Thomas said the new office will be located in an empty “strip space” on Lackey Street, which is a north-south road that parallels Interstate 95 to the west from Exit 19 to Exit 20.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles recently awarded the contract to Thomas. The contract had been held by the late Helen Beasley for more than 30 years.
Renewal of the contract was requested by Beasley’s children, but because the contract was in the name of their mother, their application for the contract was treated as a new application and not a renewal, a spokesperson for the state DMV said.
Thomas plans to hire five people to staff it — and didn’t rule out the possibility of some current staffers being retained.
“We welcome anyone to apply, including any of the folks that work at the current office,” he said. “… They have a training that has to be done, and the facility has to be upfit.
“All of that has to take place first. Then they have some IT work that has to be done for bringing in IT lines and things like that. I’m not sure exactly when, but I think it’ll be at least a couple of months.”
The decision has provoked a lot of comments on a story that was posted Sunday on robesonian.com. The comments have been pro and con, with some people upset it will be leaving downtown Lumberton and others complaining about service at the office.
But three people stopped at random while leaving the DMV office last week all said they don’t want it to move from downtown Lumberton.
“… They have always given us excellent service, and they’re the type of people that when you come here, they make you feel comfortable,” Kathleen Smith, a Lumberton resident. “They should be given the opportunity to renew the contract before anybody else comes in and tries to push them out. They’ve been here like 25 and 30 years, so where are they gonna go to find a job now? This is their experience, their livelihood.”
Tye Jackson said it’s “the biggest mistake possible.”
“I do not think it was done fairly,” she said. “These folks have been here since forever. You couldn’t ask for better people to run this business. They know it inside and out. … How could you go and let somebody else have it that doesn’t have the experience, and these folks, this is all they’ve ever done?”
Beshop Cleo Norton said the office’s current location on Chestnut Street is convenient. Sometimes a stop at the DMV office requires a quick trip the nearby courthouse to take care of any problems that might arise.
“It would sort of cripple the place here if the office closed down,” he said. “… I couldn’t ask for better service. When I come in, they would always be there to wait on us. Sometimes the line would be lining up, but they would see that you got your plates.”
Connie Russ, downtown development coordinator for the city, called the loss of the DMV office “distressing.”
“The downtown is the core of our city. Of course the downtown is a convenient location for people to come and get things like their license plates,” she said. “With so many of those places being closed, I thought it was an honor to maintain our office in Robeson County.”
Russ said that Helen Beasley owned the building, so her family still has options.
“Her children could still maybe do some revitalization or some remodeling and rent it out to possibly a new business,” she said. “Where one door closes, another one could open. … Of course it’s distressing that we’re losing yet another downtown business, but what do you do?”
Thomas said there are advantages to the new location.
“It’ll have handicapped parking, it’ll have an abundant amount of parking, and it’ll be up to the new DMV standards,” he said.
Thomas said he’s seen the criticisms coming from “both ways,” and that closing the office is “not a personal thing.”
“I’m not out to do any harm to the folks there,” he said. “I don’t know them. I’m sure they’re good folks. It’s just a business opportunity. We just want to open it up and provide good service for all of the residents of the county.”