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Published April 03, 2012, 06:10 PM

ND Sec State Shortens Office Hours, Cites Workload

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Tuesday that he is shortening his office's hours to give staffers uninterrupted time to handle a steep increase in new business registrations, contractor licensing requests and other paperwork.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Tuesday that he is shortening his office's hours to give staffers uninterrupted time to handle a steep increase in new business registrations, contractor licensing requests and other paperwork.

The monthly number of business registrations alone has jumped 63 percent since June 2010. Although workers have put in overtime to try to catch up, the backlog is at about 1,500 applications, Jaeger said.

His office has been taking four to five weeks to process new business registrations, Jaeger said. Before the increase in registrations, it would normally take a week to handle them, he said.

Most businesses and contractors need state licenses to begin operating, and the paperwork backlog has hampered some company startups. For example, a contractor who is hired for a job worth more than $2,000 must have a state license, which requires him or her to attest that they have liability insurance and workers' compensation coverage.

"The goal right now is to be able to process the files that we have as fast as we possibly can," Jaeger said. "We can't keep going on the same routine that we've been going."

The office, which is on the state Capitol's first floor, will be closed Mondays except for deliveries and open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

Jaeger said he did not know how long the change would last. The office is normally open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Western North Dakota's energy boom, which has vaulted the state into the No. 3 position among oil producers, is responsible for some of the increased demand for registrations, but "the activity is all over the state," Jaeger said. "It is not just the western part."

North Dakota's secretary of state licenses businesses, contractors, home inspectors, nonprofit groups and other organizations. It has 28 employees and a two-year budget of $16.1 million.

The backlog has built up in part because the secretary of state's registration and licensing process relies mostly on paper forms. Development of computer software that would provide online handling of routine paperwork has been plagued by years of delays.

The state's Information Technology Department has taken over the project, which was being handled by a private company that ran into financial problems.

Jaeger said Tuesday that the startup of some of some of the new system's features is "still a year away." The Legislature last year earmarked $3.5 million for the project, which Jaeger said was the first time lawmakers matched his budget request for its development.

During the 2011 legislative session, Jaeger did not ask for additional workers, and Gov. Jack Dalrymple's budget recommendations did not seek to add staff in the office.

Other processing delays happen because people are calling to ask about when they can expect the paperwork to be finished, Jaeger said.

"We're getting calls, 'What is the status of our filing?' ... Well, that takes (workers) away from doing what they need to do," Jaeger said. "By freeing up their time, it will allow them to turn the files around much quicker, because they'll be able to concentrate on them."


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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