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Local registrars facing MNLARS 'fiasco'

Residents seek help with title and licensing items at the St. Louis County Service Center at the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth Tuesday afternoon. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 2
The St. Louis County Service Center at the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth Tuesday afternoon. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Penny Reedy has a file box at the Ely License Bureau full of residents' vehicle paperwork that is caught in the state's problematic licensing and registration system.

"My customers are great. They know that I'm trying to help them for the most part. They're very understanding, but at the same time, they're frustrated," she said. "I had a guy in today, 'You told me a couple weeks ago you'd work on it,' and I said, 'See that box? It's still in the box because I still haven't heard back on it."

The implementation of the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System in July 2017 has caused stress, financial hardship and long hours for employees at county and privately owned deputy registrars, which are tasked with assisting residents with state licenses, titles and registrations. It's no different for local deputy registrars in St. Louis County.

"Fiasco" is the word St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich uses to describe the implementation of MNLARS.

"Since July of 2017, the new system has created many issues for residents of the state. The system went live without full compatibility for things as easy as registering a motor vehicle or renewing customer tabs. Tight turnaround and communication from the state came to an abrupt stop ... just two months after going live with the new system, and license and title turnaround have been as long as 100 days. Even longer for some customers still waiting on titles since June of 2017," Dicklich told the St. Louis County Board last week.

Reedy said many residents are not receiving vehicle titles or license tabs. The solution is to issue the resident a 60-day permit while they wait.

At the St. Louis County Service Center in Duluth, supervisor Ben Martin said they've reached a point where some residents have been issued four or five 60-day permits in the time they've waited for their renewed license tabs from the state.

"The state has only one thing to tell us — just give them a 60-day permit and they'll fix it. Well, those don't get done. We've found some ways to go around and to manage it and to communicate with the customer that we're willing to help them, but you are the state's customer," Martin said.

Some residents have stopped driving their vehicles because they're nervous that they'll be pulled over for expired tabs even with a 60-day permit, Martin said.

The city of Duluth has suspended its ticketing for expired tabs because of problems issuing tickets to people who hadn't yet received their renewed tabs, Duluth Deputy Police Chief Laura Marquardt said. The city is also urging residents to visit the county's service center at the Miller Hill Mall rather than attempting to use the online system.

"Until we can confirm with the state that they've resolved their issues, it just seemed to us that it was an inconvenience to our citizens to have to now come in and prove that they actually did purchase them with registration and then we have to deal with voiding a ticket. The delay was causing late fees and those things can tie up resources and upset people," Marquardt said.

Employees at the service center have been putting in additional hours to assist customers — and were recognized by the county board last week for their extra efforts in the past 11 months.

The problem is that the employees can only do so much.

"They associate us with the state. While we are affiliated, we are a deputy registrar. We are not them. There's only so much that we are authorized to do," Dicklich told the News Tribune.

In addition to causing problems for residents, MNLARS is causing stress and hardship for Reedy. It's reached a point where she's working 11 to 12 hours a day to catch up on all the problems MNLARS has caused.

"The stress level is just incredible. You go home and you're just so stressed out. I love my job, but I don't love it so much anymore because of the stress. ... I want to help my customers and give them an answer," Reedy said.

While the county's service center has lost about $65,000 due to the problems, Dicklich said it still has revenue to keep the center self-sustaining and they're not facing as much financial stress as private deputy registrars. At Reedy's private registrar in Ely, she and her husband stopped taking a paycheck from the business over the winter and put money from their savings and pension into the business to keep it afloat — something she said they've never had to do before. She added, "It was rough there for quite a few months."

Martin said he encourages residents to contact their legislators because the problem is in the state's hands.

Reedy is frustrated that the state paid $100 million "for a broken system." She added that the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill to reimburse registrars for their losses incurred, but it was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton last month. The bill would have at least given them the sense that the state cares about the deputy registrars, especially because they're using a computer system that the state mandates, she said.

Without the Ely License Bureau, residents would need to drive to Virginia or Cook to visit a physical location for their registration and tabs. But Penny said they don't plan on closing any time soon.

"We're a service to our community. We love our community and try to help everybody out. We've got great customers who are very understanding and supportive. I believe our legislators are very supportive of us," Reedy said.

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