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Passport business soars at Westmoreland courthouse

| Friday, June 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The passport business is booming at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, so evening hours now will be available one day a week.

And staffers will be going mobile to help Steelers get passports while they are at training camp and to accommodate members of the public later this year.

Prothonotary Christina O'Brien said that office will remain open until 6 p.m. every Thursday, starting next week.

Passport processing will remain available during regular business hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.

“We'll see if there is a demand. If so, we'll expand our hours on an additional day,” O'Brien said Thursday.

In 2008, the office issued 30 passports. There were 217 passports processed last year.

During the first five months of 2013, O'Brien said, the office processed 210 passport applications.

Passports can be processed through selected U.S. Post Offices. Unlike the post office, the Prothonotary's Office does not require appointments.

The extended hours will enable more people to get passports at the courthouse in Greensburg, according to O'Brien.

“We're allowing people who work and go to school to acquire their passports without missing work or school,” O'Brien said.

Tad Kelley, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said a change in federal law that requires passports for all international travel has in the past created backlogs for the postal service in processing applications.

The Postal Service processed about 142,000 passports in Western Pennsylvania last year, Kelley said.

“It's gone up about 20 (percent) to 25 percent over the last couple of years,” Kelley said.

To accommodate the additional business, a separate room has been cordoned off in the prothonotary's office for passport processing and to take photographs for those documents.

O'Brien said seven clerks in her office, about a third of the entire staff, can process passport applications.

O'Brien said the Pittsburgh Steelers contacted her office this week to process passport applications for players and team personnel.

The team will play the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium in London on Sept. 29.

O'Brien said two office employees will go to training camp at St. Vincent College near Latrobe next month to handle the paperwork for the team.

Additional mobile passport fairs are planned later this year for the public.

“In the fall, we'll go out in the county to colleges to offer passports for students and the public,” O'Brien said.

Other offices at the courthouse have extended hours.

The Register of Wills remains open Tuesday evenings until 6:30 p.m. to process marriage licenses. It is open for business every weekday from 8:15 a.m. until 4:15 p.m.

The research room at the Recorder of Deeds Office is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sheriff Jonathan Held keeps staff on duty one day a month, until 8 p.m., to process gun permits in the lobby of the courthouse.

The county's law library remains open until 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

O'Brien said the Prothonotary's Office this week started accepting credit cards for payment of court filing fees.

Card users will be charged a 2.75 percent service fee for civil and family court documents filed in her office.

“There will be zero cost to the county,” O'Brien said.

O'Brien, a Democrat, is running this fall for a second term in office. Republican challenger Mike Powers in the spring primary race criticized her for not extending office hours or accepting credit card payments.

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