County rejects $5 tag fee

Proposal aimed to cut wait for plates

A long line of drivers waits at the Mesa County Motor Vehicle Department at the Central Services Building at 200 S. Spruce St. Commissioners rejected a $5 fee for in-person renewals to reduce the number of drivers waiting in line.

The Mesa County Commission on Monday rejected a proposed fee intended to discourage in-person license plate renewals, saying that charging people $5 to pay fees in person simply didn’t add up.

Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner said she wasn’t certain herself she wanted the fee, but was searching for ways to encourage people to use the internet or telephone to handle simple business.

On Friday, for instance, 692 people sought to deal face-to-face with clerks and many waited as long as two hours, Jackie Campbell, director of divisions for the clerk’s office, told the commissioners.

Nearly half of those people were renewing their license plates and could have handled the matter by phone, internet or mail, Campbell said.

As a rule, about 30 percent of the business at the motor-vehicle office is for license-plate renewals, she said.

“I think you’ve come up with a lot of good ideas,” Commissioner Scott McInnis told Reiner, “but this is not a good idea.”

Reiner last year closed offices in Fruita and Clifton as part of an effort to hold down expenses and give the commission some leeway in directing more money to the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices.

When the county last month asked elected officials and department heads to hold expenses to 95 percent of budget, Reiner asked to be excused because she had already cut her office by 8 percent, including four jobs, but was told the new restrictions would apply to her, as well as the other departments.

Reiner in 2015 had discussed the idea of a $5 “convenience fee” with the commissioners, but abandoned the idea until the most recent round of reductions.

Under state law, motor-vehicle owners already pay a $4-per-transaction “clerk-hire fee,” which in 2015 amounted to $755,000 toward the operation of the office, or about 75 percent of the $1 million cost.

Critics of the proposed fee, such as Kevin McCarney, however, branded the proposed $5 charge an “inconvenience fee.” Others, such as Ruth Ehlers, claimed it would have to be approved by voters as a new tax. McCarney and Ehlers are Republican activists.

Mesa County Treasurer Janice Rich, who preceded Reiner as clerk and under whom Reiner served as elections director, said the fee would “not be a good look for Mesa County.”

Commissioner John Justman likened the fee to grocery stores tacking on an extra charge to deal with a checker and allowing customers to avoid the fee by using the self-check line.

It also was not proper, Commissioner Rose Pugliese said, “to charge our constituents a $5 fee to use their facilities,” such as the Central Services building in which the motor-vehicles office is located.


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