A decision by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to outsource the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and boat registration to a Missouri company, Central Bank, has raised the ire of sportsmen who had no chance to comment on the decision or examine alternatives.
Last month, GON incorrectly reported that DNR was directed by the state’s Department of Administrative Services (DOAS) to outsource license sales. The decision was DNR’s.
According to DOAS legal counsel Joseph Kim, “The decision to initiate the procurement and sign the contract were entirely decisions of DNR.”
The contract signed by DNR with Central Bank would drive most license sales to the Internet or telephone, which doesn’t sit well with sportsmen who don’t use credit cards for such purchases. The new contract gets rid of most over-the-counter outlets where sportsmen can purchase licenses except for large-volume retailers, most of which are near Atlanta or other high-population areas of the state. Sportsmen in rural Georgia could have to drive long distances to purchase licenses, or they would have to purchase licenses online or by telephone.
Under the new contract with Central Bank, set to take affect next fall, a transaction fee is added to the cost of licenses — $2.75 for online purchases or $4 for telephone purchases. The transaction fees would not apply to honorary or lifetime license holders to get their deer-harvest record.
Another issue with the change in how licenses are sold is that it would allow public access to personal information about license buyers, opening the door for marketers to target sportsmen. Under the new system through a private vendor, the names and addresses of everyone who buys a hunting or fishing license or registers a boat would be available as part of the public record, confirmed Todd Holbrook, WRD Assistant Director.
There is now an effort to tear up the contract between DNR and Central Bank. An “open letter” signed by 32 Georgia conservation organizations asked DNR to rescind the current contract and start over with a process that includes a chance for sportsmen to comment, which is an option, although it could cost the state money to break the contract.
The letter to DNR Commissioner Noel Holcomb said, “As you know sportsmen statewide are upset about DNR-contracted changes to the hunting and fishing license and boating registration systems. This will result in the largest fee/tax increase on sportsmen in history, with no traditional benefit to the sportsmen.”
The letter said “…we disagree and question the judgment of not including stakeholders, legislators and other related agencies through the process.”
A similar letter was sent to every member of the Georgia General Assembly that strongly urged legislators to “take control of a very public situation involving sportsmen dollars.”
The current license-sales system uses outdated machines that are so old that when they break, there’s no way to buy new machines, Holbrook said.
“The system we’re currently using was originally thought of as a five-year system, and then it was stretched to seven years and now we’re stretching it well beyond that,” he said.
An option to the current contract to outsource license sales to a private vendor like Central Bank would be to purchase a new in-house system with new computers.
“Whenever you deal with computers, you have to pretty much plan on upgrading about every five years,” Holbrook said.
The cost of keeping license sales in-house through WRD would involve more than a one-time cost to purchase new equipment, but rather an on-going cost to a department that has been through severe budget cuts resulting in reductions of services to sportsmen.