County clerk lets residents write to governor about new vehicle fees |

County clerk lets residents write to governor about new vehicle fees

Collin Smith

A chord was struck, it seems, after the Moffat County clerk and recorder recently initiated a program to let residents give Gov. Bill Ritter their feedback about increased vehicle registration fees.

County Clerk Elaine Sullivan’s program to collect comment cards from residents and mail them to the governor’s office has inspired praise from several state conservatives, including residents from the Front Range.

But Sullivan also earned the ire of a Denver Post staff editorial printed July 23, which criticized the program for using tax dollars to mail the cards. According to the editorial, it violates an ethic that elected officials not use taxes for “political campaigning or attacks.”

Sullivan’s office began offering comment cards to residents July 1, a month after increased vehicle registration fees took effect.

The additional fees are meant to increase funding for statewide transportation, which government officials have pinpointed as one of the state’s primary concerns.

However, some legislators, including Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, who recently announced his candidacy for governor in 2010, have criticized the fees because much of the state’s normal transportation funding through the general fund was cut off.

Most of Sullivan’s recent correspondence has been from self-described conservatives and reiterate Penry’s concern or give thanks for her willingness to “stand up” so others could be heard.

One such phone call was from Colorado Republicans Chairman Dick Wadhams.

Another e-mail from a couple in Jefferson County states: “As conservatives, my wife and I thank you for your comment cards. : We don’t subscribe to liberal newspapers, so we had no idea what you had done for your constituents. : It’s a pity that our (Jefferson County) clerk didn’t do the same.”

The Post editorial criticized Sullivan and other county clerks for using taxpayer dollars to mail the cards to Ritter’s office and also defended the new fees as an important step in funding transportation needs.

Since then, resident Corrie Ponikvar – whose husband, John, is the Moffat County Republican Central Committee chairman – donated $10 to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office for postage to send the cards to Denver.

Despite the recent praise she has received, Sullivan said she had to recognize that the card mailings were not her idea. The idea first was broached at a statewide clerk and recorder conference, and Weld and Park counties also have similar programs.

Rio Blanco County doesn’t collect statements to mail, Sullivan added, but it does mail the governor’s contact info out with registration renewal notices.

It’s been mainly conservatives who have been ready with thanks and congratulations.

However, despite that and the fact Sullivan is a Republican – and the fees were supported by a Democratic governor and largely approved by a Democratic Legislature – Sullivan said the program is in no way a continuation of us versus them politics.

“I just thought people should have a voice,” Sullivan said. “I could care less what party (Ritter) is from. That’s a pretty big increase in those fees.”

The new fees, signed into law March 2, are split between a road safety surcharge and a bridge safety surcharge, and will partly be phased in during the next three years.

An average car weighs between 2,001 and 5,000 pounds, Sullivan reported shortly after the fees became official, and new registrations for vehicles of that size increased $32 for this fiscal year, up to an additional $41 as of July 1, 2011.

The bill also ordered a mandatory fine for late renewals of $25 a month for every month past the existing 30-day grace period on renewal and registration notices, up to a maximum of $100.

“People hated it,” Sullivan said. “One man said he was going to take his registrations to Wyoming, because you don’t have to have an address, you can use a P.O. box.

“A lot of people, though, they didn’t necessarily feel the fees were so incredible, they just wished they could see the improvements this side of the mountains. You know, the Front Range seems to keep all the money, and we’re kind of left with whatever.”

But all those opinions, and others, are welcome on the cards, Sullivan said, even if it’s from a person who wants to thank the governor for the new program.

“I don’t censor them, I don’t even read them,” she said. “They have a right to say whatever they want to say.”

Therein lies her motive, Sullivan said, no matter what perceived political agendas others may believe.

“For me – because I live here in Moffat County, I was born and raised here – I may be an agent for the state, but the people here elected me,” she said. “It’s my duty to make sure they have a voice, whatever they want to say, even in Denver.”

So far, Sullivan has sent two batches of opinionated index cards to Ritter’s office – about 50 total, she said. To her knowledge, neither the governor nor his staff has responded.

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