Coronavirus fallout shutters Middletown vehicle title office

Devastating economic conditions triggered by the coronavirus pandemic are forcing Butler County Clerk of Courts Mary Swain to close the Middletown vehicle title location.

Swain was hoping to relocate the Middletown office to another location in that area of the county when the current lease expires July 1. Revenues from car titles were strong earlier this year, so relocating to a new location was viable. Then the pandemic descended, and she has abandoned the plan.

“It was an obvious decision not to relocate, based upon changing economic outlooks, and facing the current lease’s expiration date necessitated the decision not to renew,” Swain said. “When economic indicators forecast a better situation, we will reassess the option of opening a fourth office in the Middletown/Monroe area. For now, we have made the best business decision for the county budget and for county taxpayers.”

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There are three other title locations in the county where vehicle registrations and passports can be obtained, in Fairfield, Hamilton and West Chester Twp. She said due to all the pandemic regulations, the Fairfield office is the only one operating, serving dealers only. She said officials are working out ways they can reopen the other offices safely in the coronavirus environment soon. Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices are closed by order of the state.

Swain said the Middletown office generates the least amount of titles and passports from walk-in traffic than the other offices, but the cost for the space is comparable. Fairfield and West Chester generate about 9,000 titles per month compared to 3,455 in Middletown and 2,916 in Hamilton. Monthly rent and utilities for the busiest location in Fairfield is $4,735 compared to $2,733 in Middletown, where 5,774 fewer titles per month are processed.

“In the long run, we are saving county and taxpayer money by closing the current location and not relocating,” Swain said. “While convenient customer service is of the utmost importance, prudent budget decisions are now particularly paramount.”

Swain acknowledged the Hamilton office figures are lower, but the new location she opened on the west side of Hamilton last year, has a better rent structure in the five-year lease and “has been showing growth potential since relocating.”

County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter, the former court clerk, said Middletown has always been the lowest performing office in terms of volume, and officials kept the location open as a convenience and to help the city keep businesses downtown.

“It was a good idea and it serves the population to the north very well,” she said. “But if you’re looking at minimizing your staff it makes sense to shut the office with the lowest titles being produced.”

Commissioner Don Dixon said the timing was right, given the direction the economy appears to be taking.

“It’s not permanent,” Dixon said. “It was the right decision, it just kind of worked out to be the right decision at the right time.”

Swain routinely turns more than $1 million in excess title fees over to the county general fund, last year the amount was $1.5 million. Since she took office 10 years ago, she has transferred $10.35 million to the general fund. She said there are many “variables” so it is hard to predict whether that trend will continue this year.

“We’re OK on that,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said. “I still go back to we’ve put our county in good financial shape, we anticipated at some time in the future there may be something like this, didn’t know how bad this was going to be, but this is happening all over the state.”

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