The closure of the motor vehicle registration counter in the Tooele County Assessor’s office is off the chopping block — for now.
During the peak of Tooele County’s financial crisis last spring, when budgets were slashed and entire departments terminated, county staff for motor vehicle registration was one of the services considered for elimination.
“Everything was on the table,” said Chairman Bruce Clegg of the Tooele County Commission. “But we fought hard to keep vehicle registration, even though it is not a required service, because doing away with it would be too much of an inconvenience for the citizens.”
The county contracts with the Motor Vehicle Division of the Utah State Tax Commission to conduct vehicle registration services in Tooele County, according to Tooele County Assessor Wendy Shubert.
The county receives a portion of each transaction to help defray the expenses of collecting the registration fees. In 2012 the county processed 64,560 vehicle registration transactions and received $88,217 as the county’s share of the transaction fee.
The transaction fee paid by the state was around $4,000 short of the cost of the salary and other employment costs for the two clerks that are assigned full-time to motor vehicle registration, said Shubert.
Most people are familiar with the county motor vehicle counter because they process annual registration for vehicles, issuing new tabs to be placed on the license plate each year.
License renewals are only one part of the vehicle registration clerk’s duties. Out of the 64,560 vehicle license transaction completed by the county in 2012, about half — 32,806 — were license renewals.
The other vehicle registration transactions included titles for purchased vehicles, getting vehicles out of impound, permits to move unregistered vehicles, insurance issues, replaced lost or stolen plates, decals or registrations, and processing ATV, boat, and trailer licenses.
While renewals can be completed online, these other transactions must be completed in person, Shubert added.
If Tooele County decides to drop its contract with the state for vehicle licensing, the state motor vehicle division would have to decide how to provide registration services to the county.
“We are required to give the state 18 months notice if we are going to drop our contract,” said Shubert. “That gives the state enough time to conduct a study and request funding from the state legislature for their proposed solution. There is no guarantee that they will open a registration place in Tooele.”
Shubert pointed out that people in Tooele would have to travel to the nearest motor vehicle office to complete their transactions.
The nearest motor vehicle registration office in Salt Lake County is about 30 miles from Tooele. There are people in Salt Lake County that travel more than 30 miles to get to one of the two motor vehicle registration offices in Salt Lake County, she noted.
While the assessor’s motor vehicle registration staff is safe for 2013, Shubert is working on her 2014 budget.
“It can make a strong case for keeping the motor vehicle staff,” she said. “It provides a tremendous service to our citizens.”
Jack Bell, new vehicle inventory manager for the Quality Automotive Group, makes at least one trip a week to pick up licenses from the Tooele County Assessor for vehicles sold by Quality’s dealers.
“It would be senseless to close the motor vehicle registration department out here, it would be an added cost for us and our customers,” said Bell. “But it would be senseless, not just for us. I’m not talking about what it would do for the typical citizen of the county.
“When I go in there to pick up our packet of licenses, I see people from Tooele getting help at the counter. Closing that service would mean a lot of time and travel into Salt Lake, and even then when they get there they won’t get the kind of service they get out here,” he added.
It looks like the vehicle registration service will be here in Tooele County for a while.
“We haven’t talked about cuts like that for months,” said Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne. “While we have not completed the 2014 budget, with a few exceptions the staffing level we have now is the staffing level the county will have for at least the next two or three years.”
Clegg agrees that motor vehicle registration services in the county is something that is here to stay.
“Nobody I know has mentioned it or is considering shutting down motor vehicle registration,” he said.