Anoka County will receive a $578,395 state grant to recoup costs incurred by its license centers dealing with the problem-plagued MNLARS, the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System.
The Anoka County Board June 25 adopted a resolution to submit an application for state money from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
But the state has already determined how much the county will get as part of an allotment of $13 million approved by the 2019 Minnesota Legislature. The money will be allocated in the form of grants to state deputy registrars — Anoka County is one of them — to offset the negative impacts of MNLARS, according to John Lenarz, county license centers director.
“The state money likely won’t cover all the costs,” Lenarz said in an interview.
The county operates five license centers: Blaine, Columbia Heights, Coon Rapids, Ham Lake and Ramsey.
“This money is long overdue and well deserved,” said Commissioner Robyn West, who chairs the County Board’s Management Committee, which recommended approval of the application.
The DPS rolled out the $93 million MNLARS software system in July 2017 to replace a 30-year-old system for the processing of license plates, vehicle registrations and vehicle titles, but there were immediate issues. As a result, in November 2017 Lenarz asked the County Board for approval to hire four new 0.6 full-time-equivalent specialist positions, which were approved.
In his request to the board, Lenarz said the new system had increased times on all customer transactions, prompting customer complaints of long waits. Current part-time staff were being scheduled to the fullest extent, high-volume pressure had a negative impact on staff and customers, and customers were being lost when alternative service options were available to them.
The increased county costs caused by the MNLARS system were absorbed through reductions in other areas of the license centers’ budget, he said.
Expensive fixes have greatly improved MNLARS, but there are still some transactions that can’t be handled at the county license centers, such as tax-exempt plates for government and law enforcement vehicles, which have to be sent to the state to be completed, according to Lenarz.
A commission recommended earlier this year that MNLARS be scrapped and the state should start again, which has been accepted by Gov. Tim Walz, but MNLARS will remain in place until a new system is installed, Lenarz said.
A report on the MNLARS issues from the Office of the Legislative Auditor in February blamed the DPS and the Office of Minnesota Information Technology Services for the system’s deficiencies.
Problems included inability to process vehicle title applications promptly, some vehicle transactions were not possible, the system did not accurately compute some transactions, and businesses and individuals have suffered hardships, according to the report.
“In the end, despite years of hard work by project staff, DPS and MNIT did not ensure the product released in July 2017 would meet the needs of the affected agencies, stakeholders and Minnesota residents,” the report states.