One-stop passport service ending in Kandiyohi County
WILLMAR -- Starting May 1, Kandiyohi County will no longer process passport applications at the recorder's office in downtown Willmar.
The service will continue to be offered at post offices in Atwater and Pennock.
The Willmar Post Office is applying to be a passport agent. The application is likely to be approved, but the post office won't be set up to process applications by May 1.
Since 1990 the county recorder's office has served as a one-stop shop for people to obtain birth certificates, apply for passports and have their passport photos taken.
"We've done a good job," said Recorder Julie Kalkbrenner, who reluctantly made a recommendation Tuesday to the County Board to discontinue the service.
The implementation of new federal regulations by the U.S. Department of State and Homeland Security, as well as a shortage of county funds and employees, is forcing the county to stop providing a valuable service to customers, Kalkbrenner said.
The issue -- from the federal government's perspective -- is identity fraud.
The new regulation prohibits the county from using the same staff to issue birth certificates and process passport applications.
"These federal agencies see a conflict between the two services and believe they need to minimize opportunity for fraud by their passport agents," Kalkbrenner said.
The "dual function" prohibition also prevents passport applications from being handled by the same people who process driver's licenses.
Since getting word in mid-March that changes needed to be made to avoid the conflict between the services, Kalkbrenner and County Administrator Larry Kleindl looked for ways to keep the service going but came to the conclusion that it was not financially feasible.
In order to keep the passport service going, the county would have had to hire staff to do nothing except process passport applications.
That expense would be difficult to justify since counties are not required to serve as passport agents, Kalkbrenner said.
At the same time, budget constraints have kept the county short-staffed in departments that provide essential duties that are required by law.
"This is not the first thing, nor will it be the last thing, that will be discontinued," Commissioner Harlan Madsen said.
"This will be minor compared to other cuts in the future," Chairman Dean Shuck said.
One part-time staff position will be eliminated because of the change.
Although the one-stop shop made it convenient for county residents who "appreciated not chasing all over town" to get their birth certificate at one place and passport photos and application at another, Kalkbrenner said processing passports was not a money-making venture for the county.
Changes in recent years have meant higher costs for being a passport agent, while at the same time fees the county is allowed to collect decreased by $5 per application.
Commissioner Richard Larson said he expects the board will "catch a lot of guff" for discontinuing the service, especially on such short notice.
"Doesn't sound like we have a lot of choices," Shuck said.
Kalkbrenner, who serves as the Passport Committee chairwoman on the Minnesota Association of County Offices Vitals Committee, said the new regulations are affecting all county offices that currently accept passport applications.
Some counties are discontinuing the service, some are having another county office apply to become the new acceptance facility and others are working with their local post office to ensure this service locally, Kalkbrenner said.
A complete list of passport acceptance facilities can be found at: www.travel.state.gov