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by Trinity Gruenberg

trinity@inhnews.com

    MNLARSceny, MNLiARS, SS MNLARS. These are the names that some deputy registrars are calling MNLARS (Minnesota Licensing and Registration System).

    MNLARS replaced the 30 year old DVS (Driver and Vehicle Services) system last July. Since the systems inception, it has caused many issues for drivers and deputy registrars with no fix in sight.  

    The constant issues not only cause headaches for vehicle owners and dealerships, but a massive financial strain and even health issues due to stress, causing some privately owned deputy registrars to lose employees and two public offices to close their doors.

    Donny Vosen, and his wife Traci, own a deputy registrar office in Brainerd. He is on the Executive Steering Committee for MNLARS and travels to St. Paul weekly to represent deputy registrars and assist the state.

    “MNLARS has been in development for eight years. They have not listened to input from deputy registrars. The evidence is MNLARS,” said Donny Vosen.

    It was evident MNLARS was going to be a disaster when registrars could not get through training without the system crashing. 

    The Minnesota Deputy Registrar Association sent the state a letter explaining MNLARS was not working, before it launched.

    “DVS admitted, in session, that it was only at 40 percent capacity when it launched,” said Dave Werlinger, who co-owns Goplen Limited office in Long Prairie.

    They were not initially told that MNLARS was a minimal viable product. Meaning it’s not a fully developed product.

    Vosen has been attempting to maintain 15 employees, but has lost a third of them since MNLARS has launched.

    “I had a niece that worked for me for 10 years. When she saw the training, she knew it was going to be a disaster and she left,” said Vosen.

    He said three of his employees have ended up in the hospital, including his wife, for stress related issues dues to MNLARS.

    Vosen said last year his employees had 21 unscheduled leave days, which include sick days and funerals. At two months shy of a year, his office is at 57 days since the launch of MNLARS.

     The turnover of experienced employees makes it hard to train in new people, which causes added strain and frustration. 

    “Arlene [Geisenhof] and I have had a lot of heart to heart conversations. It’s frustrating. I tell her at the end of the day not to take it personally. It’s hard, you are here to help people and you can’t. People know there are issues and they’re taking a half-day or day off of work to get this done and when they finally get to the window, we can’t help them,” said Werlinger.

    “It’s hard not to take it personally,” said Geisenhof.

    He explained they can email and get a reply sometimes in minutes or days or stay on hold with a representative at the state for 45 minutes or longer  and they still can’t help the customer. The last resort is to issue a temporary permit for tabs, registration, etc. When a permit is issued, that deputy registrar does not get paid for it. If it took two hours to try and help that customer and have to issue a permit, that time is not reimbursed by the state. Since MNLARS was launched, hundreds of permits have been issued locally which is financially detrimental to deputy registrars. 

    Geisenhof used to be able to 45 or more transactions an hour. Now, it could be days before there is an actual transaction. 

    “Because she is spending all day putting fires out emailing, taking care of transactions, doing intake forms and helping dealers,” said Werlinger.

    MNLARS has increased time with face to face interactions by roughly 40 percent longer. 

    “[MNLARS] is not faster, its not easier, not user friendly and not intuitive in any way,” said Vosen.

    The idiosyncrasies of the system range from some fields need a dash in a date while other don’t and drop down boxes that are not alphabetized for easy locating. One of the biggest issues is the inability to edit anything. If something was entered incorrectly, it cannot be changed, but is still being charged to the office and has to be paid. 

    Some of the private deputy registrars are trying to fight back. 

    “St. Cloud has two city operated offices and they lost $2 million last year due to going over budget for more staffing. They want more employees and the taxpayers will have to pay for that,” said Werlinger.

    Werlinger shared since MNLARS his payroll has increased $3200 every two weeks.

    The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill for deputy registrar funding that was vetoed by the governor. Legislators did not override the veto.

    “There were a lot of offices that were hanging on through this session because we were promised we were going to get some relief. Some refinanced houses, dipped into their retirement, borrowing money and maxing out credit cards to keep their offices open. They were relying on this money and now they don’t have it,” explained Werlinger.

    Issues still arise when someone brings in a renewal form with one price, and they system shows them a different one. Tabs for new vehicles sometimes pop up as a model from a different year and vice versa. The inability to edit the price has been detrimental to operations. 

    There are also “orphan documents” at the state that nobody knows what to do with. Paperwork is scanned by size and barcoded to ensure they end up together. The scanning system doesn’t accurately scan cutting off barcodes and other information to identify what it’s for. 

    “The state made us buy 3D scanners for MNLARS and we don’t need them,” said Vosen.

    There have been updates over the past year, but that may fix one issue and cause several more. The private deputy registrars communicate with each other over the issues and how they can fix and over come them.

    Geisenhof shared that one of her trucks has two titles. It has been difficulty to try and fix the issue and it has made it impossible to get tabs for it. The only solution at the moment are 60 day permits.

    “I had customer come in with four-60 day permits. The check was cashed at the state four days after they sent them a check in February. They still don’t have their stickers,” said Geisenhof.

    This is becoming a common occurrence. People mail their checks to the state and not receive their tabs. They have to go to  their local deputy registrar to redo the transaction to fix the issue. The registrar does not get paid for it.

    “If you try to check online what your renewal will be, it will lock up. It says that you tried to pay and will say pending. It will lock it up for 60 days,” said Geisenhof.

    The state was looking to issue 180 day permit due to the ongoing issues.

    Training for MNLARS is in the summer, during their busiest time of the year which forces them to shut down their offices for days while still having to pay employees and losing revenue. The DNR was not pleased considering offices legally have to be open unless they get special permission. 

    The association who represents deputy registrars has gone as far as hiring lobbyists to help them with the legislature. 

    “We need to keep this in the public’s eye,” said Werlinger. “Use your local deputy registrar. Don’t rely on the state for help.”

    As for the future of private deputy registrars and the on going MNLARS issues..

    “Stay tuned,” said Werlinger.

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