‘So hard to keep up’
New passports must be processed in person. Thirteen Hennepin County post offices also process applications, but many do so for only a few hours a day. The Minneapolis Passport Agency, a part of the State Department, handles only emergency and expedited applications, according to its website.
That leaves the four cities, all of which have service desks that accommodate the security rules. In Bloomington and Richfield, city clerks said they are enjoying the increased business even if they sometimes struggle to handle the numbers.
“It’s so hard to keep up. Mondays and Fridays are … ohhh,” said a laughing Nancy Gibbs, Richfield’s city clerk. “But no, it’s not too much trouble. It’s revenue, and it’s job security!”
In Bloomington, the same desk that deals with passports handles business licensing. Lewis said she has been concerned that clerks may fall behind in other work because of passport processing, which takes at least 15 minutes for one person and longer for families.
Lewis estimates that passports are now close to half the business at the service counter. When things get really busy, clerks use a conference room for passport processing. She said the city is looking at ways to expand the counter area.
“It’s a wonderful thing — we’re providing a valuable service at the local level, with low customer wait times,” she said. “We like to stay busy, and it’s pretty good revenue.”
Bloomington is directing revenue from passport applications to the City Clerk’s budget to cover staff time, supplies and annual training for passport agents. People who process passports are considered the eyes and ears of the State Department, and are trained to be alert for questionable information or behavior that warrants reporting to federal authorities.
“We do indeed report,” Lewis said.
Revenue results vary
In Richfield, money from passport fees funded an additional position to work the counter. City Manager Steve Devich said the office that handles passport services should bring in more money than it spends this year, and that money will go into the city’s general fund.
“Every dollar that goes into there is another dollar we don’t need to raise with taxes,” he said.
If Robbinsdale makes money off passport processing, the City Council has directed that money to parks.
But Wayzata’s Nelson said that for her city, “processing passports is almost a break-even operation. … We get $25, and it can take half an hour to process the application.”
Wayzata talked about dropping the service, but Nelson said the City Council wants to continue to provide the service to residents.
Bloomington’s Lewis said cities won’t know the real impact of Hennepin County’s decision until the first year is up. She and Gibbs are concerned about election time, when they will need to use their service counters for absentee voting.
Robbinsdale’s Yancey said she was warned by the State Department’s regional office that despite the barrage of passport applications, she hasn’t seen high season yet.
“They said that fall is the slower time and it’s going to pick up,” she said. “If this is slow, I would hate to see busy!”