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One year later, frustration abounds: Problems persist with MNLARS

Although the lines may be long and stress levels at an all-time high, Angie Steele said for the most part customers remain understanding. Steele, director of the Douglas County License Bureau, said changes made last July to the Minnesota Licensin...

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People stand in line near closing time Wednesday at the Douglas County License Bureau in Alexandria. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

Although the lines may be long and stress levels at an all-time high, Angie Steele said for the most part customers remain understanding.

Steele, director of the Douglas County License Bureau, said changes made last July to the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) are still causing havoc. The $93 million system, which was supposed to replace 30-year-old technology, has been plagued with problems since it was put into place 12 months ago.

"It doesn't work and should've never been rolled out," Steele said of the new system. "We just want it to get better."

A series of software fixes have been made during the past year, but problems persist.

"It seems like an uphill battle and there are a lot of people suffering and running ragged right now," she said. "But we (all Minnesota license bureaus) are all in the same boat."

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Under the old system, paperwork was filled out the next morning, since customers did not have to be a part of that process. Now it is completed in front of the customer.

"It's definitely more time consuming for the customer now," said Steele, adding that the average wait time is anywhere from 20-30 minutes. "The lines may look really long when someone comes in, but it's kind of deceiving. We are trying our best and the lines do move pretty fast."

Besides Steele, the county's license bureau includes five full-time employees. She is trying to keep overtime hours to a minimum, which means as a salaried employee taking on a lot of the hours herself.

"I'm going to need more help and am in the process of hiring," said Steele, who believes the MNLARS fiasco has impacted the level of interest in the jobs.

When she has posted a position in the past, she has usually received anywhere from 150-160 applicants. At the end of the posting period for this position, only 60 applications came in.

Overall, she said, her employees are handling the changes and frustration well. As for businesses that rely on the license bureau, such as car dealerships, Steele said they have known about the changes and the slew of problems that came with them and have done a great job planning for it. That is not to say that dealerships aren't as frustrated as her office is, she added.

"Again, we are all in the same boat and there are a lot of people suffering right now," Steele said. "Everything has really snowballed and it doesn't sound like anything is happening real soon as far as a fix is concerned."

In her career with the license bureau industry, Steele said she has never before seen changes that have posed more hindrance than help. She said customers have not only waited an extraordinarily long time for vehicle titles to come in the mail, but some have received the wrong title.

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Nothing related to motor vehicles, such as tabs and titles, is going well, Steele said. When renewing tabs or license plates for vehicles or any items requiring a license, the information isn't uploaded into the system as it should be, causing issues for law enforcement officials. It can make it appear as if information is up to date, when in reality it is not, she said.

As a result, the license bureau has been forced to issue numerous 60-day permits in an attempt to rectify the situation.

"There are a crazy amount of permits in people's windows," she said. "This just isn't a pleasant experience for anyone."

The best advice Steele could share is for customers to be patient and plan on spending additional time when visiting the license bureau, and to use the drop box located in the lobby if necessary.

"We really are doing the best we can with the system that is place," she said.

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTY
Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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