Call to action

Jerry L. Friend
Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Once again, the state of Montana is pushing more costs down to the local, county level. The county treasurer offices across the state have always had a partnership with the Department of Justice Motor Vehicle Division to provide the service of licensing and renewing motorized vehicles for the residents of our counties.

The counties have always provided the building, staff and utilities as their share of the costs of the service. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has always provided the needed supplies such as paper, toner, technical support and all electronics that the counties required to make these service available in every county.

Last year, it was pointed out to the Motor Vehicle Division that there is not a BUDGET LINE ITEM allowing them to cover these costs and that they would no longer be allowed to do so.

Now, the counties are having to foot the bill for the entire Motor Vehicle operation. While on the surface this appears to be minimal, Gallatin County has estimated that their cost for paper alone will total around $12,000 per year. This is more than the local budget can absorb and some commissioners across the state are considering discontinuing Motor Vehicle service in their counties as they cannot afford the additional costs.

County treasurers across the state oppose shutting down motor vehicle services as we see it as a major customer service function of our counties.

The Department of Justices’ solution is that it is going to put forth legislation to assess an addition 1 percent administrative fee on each transaction to cover the costs of these supplies.

This, according to DOJ, would raise an additional $1.5 million. I did a quick survey of the counties to see how much money we have already sent to the state of which the majority, by statute, goes to the General Fund. With 46 of the counties reporting, we sent the state $128,288,421.56 from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022.

I think we have taxed our residents enough and there needs to be another way to get the funding needed back to the counties. Back to the title of this column, “Call to Action.” What needs to happen now is that you, the residents/taxpayers of the counties need to contact your local representatives to the Legislative body which will be convening in Helena in January and demand that they place a Budget Line Item in the Department of Justice, Motor Vehicle Services to reimburse the counties for the additional costs associated with providing these services at the county level. We already pay enough to license our vehicles in our great state, we do not need additional fees added to the bill.