Some twenty-five years ago Ada County began assessing its motorists a fee for annual emissions tests. It continues to do so, but even after all these years, those complying with the law see a portion of their assessment going to track down those who do not comply with the law. In the past five years, for example, more than 13 percent of the amount dedicated to notices and enforcement has gone to notify those not testing their vehicles that they must do so, or else.
From 2005-09, Ada County motorists who got their annual emissions tests done on time spent $15,365.09 to revoke the registrations of those who didn’t. According to public records, the Ada County Air Quality Board (ACAQB) paid an average of $3,073.09 per year in that five-year period to enforce the county’s air quality regulations. This is in addition to the $99,119.59 the ACAQB spent on printing and mailing notices, and in some cases repeated notices.
Of the $15 test fee paid by Ada County motorists, the ACAQB receives $1.75, the rest going to the operators of the red testing vans seen in parking lots across the county to pay for employee salaries, insurance, equipment, space rental, power, and other testing-program related expenses.
Board member Dennis Turner said the ACAQB gives people plenty of time to get their vehicles in to be tested. “If they have a test due in January, we give them all of January, we give them a late month of February, if they still haven’t tested, we send out a notice, around the 25th of March, that says they will be subject to revocation if they don’t get it tested. Any time after that we could be revoking it.”
Aside from the $114,485 the ACAQB spent for notices and enforcement from 2005-09, it also spent more than $75,000 on vehicles, $28,000 on computers, $27,656 on rent and utilities, and $207,129 on salaries. Total expenditures of the ACAQB totaled $890,543.
Turner said even though most of the ACAQB's spending is for routine expenses, in the end every dime goes to improving air quality. “We’re running a program that’s improving air quality. It’s the fact that we’re identifying the gross polluters. By identifying those vehicles and getting them fixed, it’s like taking (hundreds of polluting) vehicles off the road.”
Last January, the rules governing emissions testing in Ada changed. Rather than testing every year, motorists will now only have to test every other year; vehicles with even numbered model years will have to be tested in even numbered years, and likewise for odd year vehicles. The testing fee increased to $20. Vehicles newer than five years and older than 30 are exempt, as are hybrids.
Emissions testing began this month in Canyon County. Residents there pay $11 per test, but have to go to one of 21 designated testing stations, not mobile testing vans like in Ada County. Information and instructions can be found at the Canyon County assessor’s webpage.