DMV matter referred to committees

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County officials said Monday the Board of Supervisors’ standing committee system will review a state report issued Friday that was critical of the way the county’s Department of Motor Vehicles previously issued snowmobile registrations.

The state Office of the Inspector General issued a report investigating alleged improper snowmobile registrations by the local DMV office in the city and former County Clerk William Eschler from 2004 to 2012.

The report said the inspector general received a complaint from state DMV that then-Clerk Eschler allowed snowmobile clubs in the county to register their club-owned snowmobiles as government vehicles, thereby avoiding the payment of required registration and trail maintenance fees.

“The inspector general’s investigation determined that the Fulton County DMV office permitted local snowmobile clubs to register their snowmobiles as government, contrary to DMV regulation, for at least 10 years, resulting in uncollected fees totaling more than $10,000,” the report said. “Fulton County DMV officials, including Eschler and the then-DMV office supervisor, testified that the improper practice resulted from their mistaken belief that club-owned snowmobiles, which are used solely for trail grooming and not for personal use, could be registered as government vehicles.

“However, even after he was advised that this practice violated DMV regulation, Eschler allowed it to continue for a year, during which 34 additional improper registrations were processed, thereby allowing those registrants to avoid paying the required fees. Eschler’s conduct appears to have violated both the Fulton County Code of Ethics and his oath of office,” the report said.

Eschler couldn’t be reached this morning for comment.

In response to the inspector general’s recommendation that it develop a process for the review of government vehicle registrations, DMV advised that its “new initiative” for the certification of eligibility for official license plates addresses the concerns identified in this investigation. As part of the initiative, DMV issued in March a new form for the registration of government vehicles that includes a definition of a governmental entity that excludes volunteer organizations such as snowmobile clubs.

DMV also advised that it has communicated to current Fulton County Clerk Ann Nickloy the obligation “to collect all required fees” for vehicles and snowmobiles. Further, DMV is undertaking recoupment of the uncollected fees.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Rick Argotsinger told his colleagues Monday at the County Office Building that the issue would only be discussed in private.

“We’ll be going into an executive session to answer any questions you may have,” Argotsinger said.

The county did that for personnel reasons, but otherwise only issued a statement saying neither Eschler not Nickloy notified the board that past interpretations regarding snowmobile registrations were being questioned by the state.

The statement indicated that after reviewing the report, Argotsinger is referring the matter to the “appropriate” standing committee. The Finance Committee normally oversees the County Clerk’s Office.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.