LINCOLN — Starting this fall, Nebraska vehicle owners could see some changes to an unwelcome annual routine.
Instead of receiving postcards or letters from the county treasurer notifying them to renew their vehicle licenses, they will soon get letters sent by the state.
The change won't make it any easier to pay the registration on cars, trucks, boats and trailers.
But Rhonda Lahm, director of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, said it should better protect people's privacy and help control government costs.
State lawmakers agreed. Earlier this year they approved a bill switching to a centralized notification system with little debate and no dissenting votes.
State Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, chairwoman of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, assured colleagues the change would not affect how citizens pay their registrations.
People will still deal with their county treasurer to register vehicles and renew license plates. They can renew in person at the office, by mail or online. In Douglas County, they also can renew over the telephone.
“Nothing changes except where the notification comes from,” Dubas said. “It actually makes the system more efficient and better able to get the notifications to the citizens in a timely fashion.”
People in Douglas and Lancaster Counties may barely notice the difference in the notices. Both counties already send letters for the annual reminders.
The letters sent by the state will list the local county treasurer at the top and use that office as the return address.
The other 91 counties now send out postcards, which are provided by the state.
Lahm said switching to letters has several advantages. It protects the privacy of vehicle owners. It allows for sending several notices in one envelope to owners with multiple vehicles.
It also allows the state to get rid of the outdated dot-matrix printers that the state provides to those 91 counties. Maintaining the printers has become increasingly difficult.
But replacing them with 91 laser printers would be costly for the state and for the counties, because the laser printers cannot accommodate the postcards.
Lahm said going to a centralized system can reduce printing costs. The state also can take full advantage of bulk mail rates, which has been difficult for smaller counties.
County treasurers generally welcome the move, which takes effect in October for renewals that are due in November.
Sarpy County Treasurer Rich James said he and his staff are looking forward to the change.
He said it means they won't have to baby-sit the printer for hours and will be able to scan the bar codes on the renewal forms to call up information, instead of typing in numbers manually.
“My thought was this was a good thing. Most of the treasurers did,” James said.
Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing Jr. said he doesn't expect the new system to be a problem for his office, and estimated that it could even save the office a little money.
To pay for the change, the state will get 50 cents for each registration. The money will come out of the existing $2 fee charged on each registration.
Ewing's one concern was that the state does not plan to include return envelopes in the mailings.
He said standard return envelopes allow license renewals to be opened with a machine and processed more efficiently. He said he is working with the state to find a solution.
But Lancaster County Treasurer Andy Stebbing is hoping that county can go its own way on renewal notices.
He expects that his office will lose money on the change because it costs $1.72 to process a registration — more than the $1.50 remaining for the counties.
He also is concerned about losing the efficiency of standard return envelopes and losing the opportunity to tailor letters for local residents.
“They mean well,” Stebbing said of the state. “It's just not for us, is all.”