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County refuses to pay

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When Missoula County Treasurer Vickie Zeier told the Independent in early June that it was going to be a long summer for the Motor Vehicle Division, she wasn't kidding. The department continues to have problems with its new title and registration system—dubbed MERLIN—and those problems are now generating friction between Missoula and the state.

According to Larry Fasbender, deputy director at the Department of Justice, Missoula County owes the state office nearly $1.7 million in vehicle registration payments. The state was hoping to get the money by fiscal year end, but that date has come and gone and still no check.

"The concern of the state, of course, is those moneys go into a short-term investment program," Fasbender says. "The money generated from those is partly what helps support the state."

Zeier says it's not her fault. She's been unable to pay the state since MERLIN went live on April 1 largely because of discrepancies between the state's transaction report and the county's records.

"We've been on MERLIN since April 1, and we haven't been able to balance April or May," Zeier says. "The state hasn't received moneys from Missoula County for those months because we can't balance."

Zeier and Kim Seeberger, her chief deputy treasurer, recently attempted to reconcile numbers for one week in April, but the numbers didn't match. So far the closest they've come to a balanced report is still $200 off.

Fasbender says other counties found similar discrepancies, but most agreed to pay now and reconcile numbers later.

The fact that Zeier still hasn't paid is creating a problem. Last Tuesday, Fasbender told her he'd send a state patrol officer to collect a check for April and May. Zeier said she wouldn't hand over a check if they did and the state backed off. Simply put, Zeier flat-out refuses to hand over any money until she knows exactly how much Missoula County owes the state. She says she's only trying to do her job as an elected official.

"As county treasurer," she says, "I'm not going to send them money when I don't know what I should send."

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