A request by a group of Kansas county treasurers to get more flexibility to the commercial vehicle registration deadline had nothing to do with the Department of Revenue's decision to grant another month of leeway, an agency spokesperson said. Either way, the treasurers are glad they did it.
County treasurers and commercial vehicles owners received an extra month-long mulligan for registration delays caused by the state's new commercial vehicle taxing program this year.
Commercial vehicles due to be registered by the end of the month will still be legally liable for operating vehicles with overdue registrations, but late registration fees will be waived through the end of March.
Commercial vehicle owners whose registrations were due on Dec. 31 had already been granted two months of leeway.
The Kansas Department of Revenue has alerted law enforcement agencies of the waiver and has asked for leeway to drivers caught with out-of-date registrations.
The Kansas Highway Patrol, which typically handles the majority of law enforcement issues on commercial vehicles, will err on the side of leniency for the month, said Capt. Chris Turner of the commercial vehicle enforcement and safety division.
"Right now we'll be issuing warnings for any such problem," Turner said of the state troopers' enforcement plan. County and municipal law enforcement agencies could still issue fines at their discretion, however.
The late-fee-free period was granted at the behest of commercial vehicle owners who are now required to present new types of information, the state tax agency said in a press release.
The late registration fees are $2 per vehicle up to $100 per fleet, according to kstrucking.org, the state's informational website on commercial vehicle regulation.
A spokesperson for the Department of Revenue denied that the waivers or requests to law enforcement agencies were a response to concerns brought by county treasurers, and that 45,700 vehicles had been successfully registered through the new system.
A group of county treasurers asked the tax agency for more time earlier this month as they train staff members and inform vehicle owners of the new system, Ford County Treasurer Debra Pennington told the Ford County Commission.
"We begged them," Pennington told the Ford County Commission at its meeting on Feb. 18, "yesterday we received an email that said 'no.'"
"It takes a long time to gather the data" as the treasurer's office moves commercial vehicles from the "MOVRS" system to the new "KCoVRS" system, Pennington said.
The unexpected waiver "is a relief," Pennington said over the phone. "My staff is working as best as they can, but when we register these commercial vehicles it takes a long time to process them."
Pennington has assigned one staff member to work solely on the applications and receives help from the other four staff members. Additionally, Pennington worked over the weekend to process registrations herself.
Working without the typical daily interruptions of phone calls and other taxing duties, Pennington was able to knock out a fleet of 43 vehicles in about four hours. That kind of focus would be impossible during open hours, she said.
"I really appreciate they reconsidered. It would have been physically impossible to get them done."
But, "The good news is, the system is working wonderfully," Pennington said.
Johnson County Treasurer Tom Franzen said his office is fully expecting the end of each month this year to be a crunch as commercial vehicle owners wait until the final days to handle registration.
Johnson County is estimated to receive 20,000 commercial vehicles by the end of the year. Currently six staff members in Franzen's office are focused on processing the vehicles. Commercial vehicle owners in Johnson County can also expedite the process by entering data themselves to a county website.
Franzen said the best way for fleet owners to avoid fees after a backup of requests is to start the process earlier in the month.
Next year should be better, the county treasurers said.
This type of disruption has to be expected when moving from one system to another, Franzen said, and he appreciates that law enforcement agencies and the Department of Revenue are cognizant of those difficulties.
The system change is the result of a law passed in 2012 that separated the taxing structures of personal vehicles and commercial vehicles. Before this year, commercial vehicles were assessed as property and taxed accordingly.
Now vehicles are pay registration fees by tonnage and other considerations. County treasurers and motor carrier operators supported the law as it aimed to simplify taxation, decrease tax evasion and prevent out-of-state carriers from "free riding" while operating in the state, according to testimony to the House Transportation Committee.