Motor vehicles drive treasurer business

Ron Burtz

Part 13 of a series of articles examining the numerous economic and lifestyle impacts of the current in-migration to Custer County.
As Custer County treasurer, Dawn McLaughlin is in charge of collecting all taxes for the county, including all property taxes for cities, school districts and any other political district authorized to levy real estate taxes. However, at this point in time, what’s keeping her office hopping the most is transfers of vehicle titles and the sale of temporary and annual vehicle registrations for the state of South Dakota.
“It seems like that’s what we do most now is motor vehicles,” said McLaughlin.
When out-of-state visitors bring their ATVs and UTVs to ride on trails in the Black Hills National Forest, in order to get to the trails they need a temporary permit to drive the vehicle on state and county roads. That’s where McLaughlin’s office comes in.
As of Friday, the sale of temporary tags which began in May was up 862 over last year’s January-August numbers.
“I thought last year was crazy,” said McLaughlin, noting that was in the middle of a pandemic, “but this year we’ve seen an increase too.”
The sale of temporary permits to non-residents, which are good for between five and 15 days based on what the applicant wants, can be time consuming depending on the amount of information the customer provides.
McLaughlin said the customer must fill out a packet of papers providing a driver’s license number, proof of insurance and other information. Sometimes that is done via email ahead of time and just as often customers come to the counter at the courthouse when they arrive in town.
“Our counter’s been busy,” said McLaughlin. ”If we have everything, it takes about 10 minutes to produce one, but when we have to correspond back and forth, it can take up to a couple of days.”
Although some counties will title and license non-resident ATVs, Custer County does not offer that service, much to McLaughlin’s relief.
“We wouldn’t have the manpower to do that,” she said.
Selling temporary permits is not the only motor vehicle task growing exponentially for the treasurer’s office, however. Out-of-state title transfers are up 786 over last year at this time.
“The increase of that has been huge,” said the treasurer. “Not just non-residents wanting to license here, but it’s non-residents becoming residents of Custer County.”
“I would say just the influx of out-of-state transfers is the biggest impact,” agreed deputy treasurer Tierney Shelton.
South Dakota doesn’t have a residency law, so many people, especially full-time RVers, will title and license here because it’s less expensive. However, McLaughlin believes it is new full-time residents who make up the bulk of her title transfer business.
Collection of motor vehicle fees has been a growing trend over the last several years, according to McLaughlin. She reports in 2019 the total motor vehicle sales were $3,140,485. In 2020 those revenues grew to $3,525,873. So far in 2021 the office has collected $2,646,992 in vehicle title and registration fees. That represents a $386,000 increase over this point in 2020, so if business continues at the same pace, motor vehicle revenues could approach $4 million by the end of the year.
Fortunately, McLaughlin is getting help to deal with the increased business. The county commission approved hiring an additional deputy to join the four she already has and that person should be on board soon.
Asked whether there appears to be any trends in terms where title transfers were coming from, McLaughlin and Shelton agreed: many seem to be coming out of the state of California.


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