Passport applicants flood some cities in Twin Cities metro

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2014 - 1:21 PM

The jump follows Hennepin County’s decision to stop passport services because of the cost of meeting federal security requirements.

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Minneapolis residents Chad Gannon, left, and Andrea Gannon filled out information to get their passports renewed at Richfield City Hall, a growing trend in some cities after Hennepin County stopped providing the service.

Photo: AMANDA SNYDER • Star Tribune,

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Until last fall, most transactions at Wayzata City Hall’s reception desk consisted of building permits and other routine paperwork, with a passport application now and then.

Then November came. People who wanted to go to Europe and China and who knows where began lining up for passports. The full-time desk clerk and a part-time colleague were quickly overwhelmed.

“We’re a small community, with a small staff,” said Wayzata City Manager Heidi Nelson. “We used to serve just our little area, and now we’re serving the entire west metro.”

The flood of passport applications began after federal security requirements caused Hennepin County to stop offering passport services. City service desks in Bloomington, Richfield and Robbinsdale also have been swamped.

Though cities receive $25 for processing each passport application, so far the revenue hasn’t been much of a financial boon for a city like Wayzata.

It handled 97 applications in November and 126 in December after processing an average of 21 per month before. Because of the demands on its staff, Wayzata now requires passport applicants to make appointments, capping the number at eight a day.

Richfield, which has seen the number of passport applications triple to 40 to 50 per day, hired another clerk. In Bloomington, which processed 236 applications in November compared with 99 the November before, City Clerk Janet Lewis renewed her passport agent certification so she could step in to help the five other certified workers when it’s busy.

Robbinsdale used to handle about 15 passports a week but sometimes does 30 a day now with the same staff, said Brenda Yancey, motor vehicle coordinator.

“We haven’t hired anyone yet; we’re still trying to get a handle on it,” she said.

Why the county stopped

Hennepin County stopped offering passport services in November because of federal security requirements that passport services be physically separated from areas where birth certificates or other identification documents are processed. Employees who do one duty cannot back up the other department. The concern was that false documents could be created.

County officials estimated it would have cost about $200,000 to physically separate passport processing from other services.

Mark Chapin, head of taxpayer services for Hennepin County, said the county has no plan to resume that service.

While the county had a tradition of offering passport services, he said, it was not a statutory responsibility like driver’s licenses, marriage and death records and other documents.

“I feel for [the cities], because passports are a big deal, and it can be really time-intensive,” he said. “If you have a family of four with language issues, it can take an hour.

“I know we’ve got some disappointed citizens, but I don’t regret that we did it.”

Robbinsdale’s Yancey said her staff has taken flak from some of those residents.

“A lot of people go to different [county] offices and find out they discontinued them, and then they come here and vent at us,” she said. “We try to give them good customer service.”

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