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County fears late fees, increase might torque vehicle owners

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By AJ Vicens

Jeffco officials are preparing for the worst when it comes to how county residents might react to looming increases in vehicle registration fees and mandatory late fees for those who fail to register vehicles on time.

The county will spend $55,000 hiring off-duty police officers to provide security at three of its five motor vehicle offices, including South Jeffco's office at 6004 S. Kipling St., Unit A.

Starting July 1, vehicle registration will cost an average of $32 more, according to Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson, an increase based on vehicle weight.

And, starting June 1, the county must also collect late fees, which previously was up to the county's discretion. Late fees will now be assessed at $25 per month for every month past the 30-day grace period, up to a maximum of $100. The county's motor vehicle department gets to keep the first $10 of the late fee, with the rest going to the state.

The increase in registration fees combined with the late fees could be a mean one-two punch for some motorists. For example, a renewal fee on a small utility trailer that was due by February 2009 would have cost $13. If the owner of the trailer doesn't renew before July 1, that would jump to $135.50.

The increase in registration fees is the result of legislation signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in March that was designed to generate hundreds of millions of dollars to fund state transportation needs.

"A key thing to note is that this wasn't our decision," Anderson said. "There are transportation needs in the state, and the legislature and governor passed this legislation to fund those transportation needs. This wasn't a county decision."

Anderson plans to use the county's portion of the late fees to fund the security she's adding at motor vehicle offices in South Jeffco, Lakewood and Arvada. The locations in Golden and Evergreen already have security, based on their proximity to sheriff's deputies.

Anderson said she'll keep the security team in place for two months and then re-evaluate.

"The plan is being worked out right now, and we'll be getting these contracts in place," Anderson said. "People should expect to see a security presence, albiet a very mild one." Anderson added that she's not expecting any problems, just trying to be cautious.

"But I would be derelict in my duty to citizens and my employees if there were an incident and we weren't prepared," Anderson said.

The county would have pulled in roughly $250,000 if it had collected all late fees in 2008. Anderson said any additional money not going to security will be spread among other functions, like a system to make customer transactions more efficient.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

To read more about the increases in vehicle registration fees and late fees, visit www.jeffco.us/mv. You'll find charts breaking down the fees by vehicle weight and other information. Or call 303-271-8100 with any questions.