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Any attempt to raise government-mandated fees usually results in grumbling from those who have to pay. But a proposal to hike the fee for required vehicle emission tests from $9 to $12 clearly has to be done.

Cars driven by motorists in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties are required to pass air pollution emission tests as part of the auto registration, licensing and safety inspection process - done yearly at state-licensed service stations. Salt Lake County has about 400 such licensed stations.The problem is that the Legislature earlier this year passed a law requiring manual emission testing equipment to be replaced by computerized devices. As part of using such equipment, the machine, not the operator, would determine whether a vehicle passed the emission test.

Since the expensive pollution-testing equipment is required by law, the private service stations and garages have no choice but to buy it - at least if they want to stay in the inspection business.

In forcing those business to purchase computerized emission analyzers, it is only fair that the fee be raised to allow such places to pay for the new machines.

Otherwise, only a few places would be able to afford the equipment and motorists would have a difficult time getting their autos inspected - also required by law.

In Salt Lake County, based on the 400,000 inspections performed last year, car owners will have to pay at least $1.26 million more for emissions tests.

The fee will not become effective until July 1991, and various hearings must be held before the plan is adopted. But it is clear that higher fees are the only way to provide for the new pollution testing equipment mandated by the Legislature.