Fremont County Officials Concerned About State Snowmobile Registration Changes

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By Joyce Edlefsen

Rexburg (ID) Standard Journal

St. Anthony, Idaho - Major changes are in the works concerning registrations for ATVs and snowmobiles in Idaho.

And Fremont County officials are concerned about how those changes might affect the county's snowmobile program and the related economy.

Nancy Merrill, director of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, and key staff visited the Fremont County Commission Monday to explain the changes and seek the county's help in maintaining a viable snowmobile program.

Fremont County is a key player in the state's snowmobile industry, representing about 20 percent of the total registration revenue statewide.

Plenty of people in the upper valley depend on the industry for at least a portion of their livelihood-from snowmobile dealers, repair shops and equipment renters to the county employees who operate the trail groomers.

The major change, set to roll out January 2014, is to transfer all registration operations-including snowmobile registration-from the Idaho Parks and Recreation Department's responsibility to the Idaho Transportation Department.

Parks and Recreation is getting completely out the registration business.

The move is prompted by a 80 percent cut in the Parks & Recreation Department budget two years ago and a order from Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to his department heads to make their agencies more financially efficient.

One of the first efficiency efforts was to improve the department's 20-year-old registration system, which is dependent on 300 vendors statewide and on digital communication with the Department of Transportation.

"They have a new system that won't communicate with the Parks and Rec system," Merrill said.

After reviewing several options, the transfer of registrations outright to the D.O.T. proved to be the most financially logical.

After the roll out of the program in 2014, "We will have no staff and no capability of handling registrations," Merrill said,

And the department is moving ahead with planning to make the change possible. Idaho snowmobile users will be able to register on line, in person at the DMV at the Courthouse or by mail as usual.

The problem for Fremont County and for other counties that have an out-of-state snowmobile clientele is reaching customers-customers who may decide on the spur of the moment to drive to Idaho from neighboring Utah or Montana to ride for a weekend. Currently they pick up snowmobile stickers from one of the 10 vendors now operating in Fremont County.

The state has tried to contact as many past nonresident snowmobile registrants as possible to tell them about the changes and to urge them to register online.

But state and Fremont County officials are concerned there could be a drop in the numbers of out-of-state snowmobilers, and thus a drop in revenue for trail grooming programs if it becomes more difficult or confusing for snowmobilers to register to ride.

About 4 percent of the state revenue from snowmobile registrations has come from out of state.

Merrill said one option for out-of-state registration is to let the county handle the program and retain the revenue from it.

For example, the county could pre-purchase snowmobile stickers from the state, sell them at the DMV and distribute them to qualified vendors that have computer access to keep records. The vendors would sell the stickers and remand the revenue to the county.

"We are open for suggestions, ideas and solutions," Merrill said. "What you do in Fremont County we could replicate in other counties. You are the epicenter for folks who come in from out of state."

Commission Chairman Skip Hurt reiterated the county's economic stake in the program and said county officials and their snowmobile advisory committee will meet to discuss options.

Regional Parks and Recreation official Garth Taylor said he would like to be a part of that discussion moving forward.

Fremont County and the state already have strong ties, with two state Parks and one rail to trail and a grant program that helps fund many county projects related to recreation.

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