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This ‘totally illegal’ registration scheme saves thousands of Ada County drivers money

Ada and Canyon are the only counties in Idaho that require vehicles to pass emissions tests. Thousands of Ada County residents register their vehicles in other counties to avoid the tests and save money on registration fees, Ada County Highway District Commissioner Kent Goldthorpe says.
Ada and Canyon are the only counties in Idaho that require vehicles to pass emissions tests. Thousands of Ada County residents register their vehicles in other counties to avoid the tests and save money on registration fees, Ada County Highway District Commissioner Kent Goldthorpe says.

Thousands of Ada County residents save money and hassle every year by registering their vehicles in counties that don’t require emissions tests and have lower registration fees.

Slick, right? But there’s a big problem.

“It’s totally illegal,” said Kent Goldthorpe, an Ada County Highway District Commissioner and the executive director of the Ada County Air Quality Board, which oversees most emissions tests in the county.

Goldthorpe estimates 10,000 county residents use these fraudulent registrations, sapping $300,000 from the highway district’s budget every year.

That’s not a huge amount for an agency whose general fund budget exceeds $100 million. But it’s enough to buy “a bunch of curb, gutter and sidewalk,” he said.

Some Ada residents might have a parent or a vacation home in another county and use that address to register their vehicles. Doing so would cost less, because ACHD tacks its own registration fee on to the fee vehicle owners pay to the state. Each year, ACHD charges $40 for vehicles up to 2 years old; $36 for vehicles from 3 to 6 years old; and $24 for those 7 years and older.

The highway district is proposing a ballot measure that would allow county voters to increase the local fee to pay for road improvements. The fees would rise to $70 for vehicles up to 2 years old; $63 for vehicles from 3 to 6 years old and $42 for older ones. That may give some residents even more incentive to register elsewhere.

In most cases, though, Goldthorpe said Ada residents are trying to avoid the hassle of every-other-year emissions tests and potentially costly repairs to make their vehicles pass those tests. Ada and Canyon are the only counties that require emissions tests.

ACHD has been working with the state and county government to curb this problem. The Idaho Transportation Department is compiling a list of registration information for car owners across the state, spokesman Vince Trimboli said. ITD will hand that information to the Ada County Assessor’s office, which will compare where people’s vehicles are registered to where they’ve claimed homeowner’s exemptions, Trimboli said.

The exemption reduces property taxes for Idaho homeowners in their primary residences. Second homes, rentals and vacation homes don’t qualify. So anyone who claims a homeowner’s exemption in Ada County but registers a vehicle in other counties is breaking the law, intentionally or not, Goldthorpe said.

Ada County Assessor Bob McQuade thinks most of these instances are unintentional, occurring when county residents don’t know they’re required to register their vehicles here.

ACHD has no authority to punish fraudulent registrations, Goldthorpe said. But the Air Quality Board can revoke registrations for residents who have failed emissions tests. And you can’t skip registering altogether: Driving without a registration is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $300 fine.

Goldthorpe said he hopes to receive the list of bad registrations and begin forcing residents to register appropriately within a month. McQuade said enforcement will start with a letter to those residents informing them of the exemption-registration discrepancies and warning them that both addresses need to match. Someday, he said, registration clerks might be able to look up addresses for the exemptions.

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