Elbert County taxpayers are on the hook for bounced checks to the county's Department of Motor Vehicles for license plate registrations and renewals. According to Dallas Schroeder, Elbert County clerk and recorder, the county has covered more than $10,000 in non-sufficient-funds checks written for vehicle registrations so far this year.
When an individual registers a car in Elbert County, he or she writes a check for all registration fees owed for the vehicle, including local and state fees. At the end of each month, Elbert County pays the State of Colorado its portion of the registration fees. Once a tag is issued, the county becomes liable to the state for all the fees collected on its behalf whether the check for the tag clears the bank or not.
When the county's DMV receives a notification of an NSF check from the county treasurer's office, it sends a letter to the address listed on the registration along with a copy of the bounced check. Drivers then have two weeks to bring either cash or certified funds to cover the check and an NSF charge to the county.
After two weeks, the case is referred to the Elbert County sheriff. The sheriff's posse repossesses the license plates from owners with returned checks. Once a plate has been repossessed, the registration is canceled in the statewide database and the vehicle cannot be registered in another county until the account is settled.
“The posse will bring them back to us and we keep them,” Schroeder said about the repossessed plates. “As soon as the people come and clear it up, we give them their plates back.”
According to Schroeder, nearly one third of all NSF checks written to the county for vehicle registrations are not likely to be collected because owners have either provided a false address within the county or addresses are outside Elbert County where the sheriff has no jurisdiction.
Schroeder expressed his concerns for the problem at a meeting of the county commissioners on Aug. 12. He told the commissioners that his office is evaluating the costs of accepting credit cards, or contracting with a check verification service such as VeriCheck.
The county, however, is not free to act on its own. The equipment for registering vehicles is owned and integrated with the Colorado Department of Revenue, which must approve any new payment system, such as credit cards, before the county is authorized to implement it.
The State of Colorado calculates a car's registration fee based on three factors: a license fee based on the vehicle's weight, purchase date, and taxable value; a sales tax; and an ownership tax. A small portion of the total registration goes to the county.