The only thing standing between vehicle owners and hassle-free registration is a stack of bad checks, officials say.
Last week, a legislative auditor called for an end to a registration system that requires car and truck owners to stand in two lines to make separate payments to the county and the state.Brent Overson, deputy Salt Lake County assessor, responded that the change can happen without the sweeping reforms recommended in the audit. But first, the county and state have to decide which one takes the loss when a check bounces.
Overson said the county handles about $90,000 in bad checks yearly out of a total of $30 million in registration fees collected.
Overson said he thinks the losses could be divided in proportion to the way money is distributed.
"It's not like we have a lot of bad checks," he said. "The program will be on line by the end of the year."
When the program is in place, the county and state will collect one check from each vehicle owner and divide the money afterward.
To register a car, owners have to stand in two lines - one to pay property tax to the county and the second to pay a registration fee to the state.
Meanwhile, members of the Legislature's Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee met to discuss the audit, which calls the current system inefficient for a variety of reasons.
Utah is the only Western state that does not permit vehicle owners to make a single payment covering registration fees and vehicle taxes, the audit notes. It also recommends the state replace the current system, in which each county sets a separate vehicle tax rate, with a fee that is the same statewide.
The fee would be multiplied by the value of the vehicle to determine the taxes due.
County officials rejected that recommendation, saying some counties would lose money. Salt Lake County would lose about $2.4 million, according to the audit.
Overson said the idea that a statewide fee would save money is "a pipe dream."
"We will still do it (collect money) all by computer and with the same number of people," he said.
Because rates currently vary in each county, some vehicle owners register their cars in a county other than the one in which they live, thereby costing the state and counties money.
Overson said a statewide fee would not completely solve that problem. Some Utahns register their cars in Oregon, where costs are low and laws do not require vehicle owners to be state residents.
Members of the committee decided to continue discussing the matter at their next meeting in September.