By La Plata County Commissioners Brad Blake, Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff
and La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Parker
We are writing about the branch Motor Vehicle office in Bayfield, which will close in December 2017.
The La Plata County Commissioners all recognize the convenience that the location provides residents in the Bayfield and Ignacio communities and regret that the county is in a position to have to make cutbacks to county services. We will make every effort possible to minimize the impact of closing the Bayfield branch.
After heartfelt consideration, research and data analysis, we have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to close the Bayfield Motor Vehicle office. As stewards of taxpayer dollars it is our duty to ensure the funds are spent efficiently and effectively, and given the county's severe budget constraints, closing the Bayfield branch is a sound fiscal decision, although a difficult one to make. We understand this is an inconvenience, but we fortunately have an opportunity to offset the closure by installing a vehicle registration renewal kiosk in Bayfield at the Pine River Public Library as part of a state pilot program that provides the equipment for free to select counties. The kiosk will take credit cards and checks and will print out the vehicle registration renewal form and stickers upon payment. It will be similar to using a vending machine or buying stamps at a post office machine.
We will also continue to provide the online renewal option that has been in place since 2011.
Additionally, we will continue to provide a Voter Service and Polling Center in Bayfield for elections. The 24-hour secure ballot drop site will also remain at Bayfield Town Hall. Finally, we assure you that the Durango office will continue to deliver the exceptional motor vehicle services you have come to rely on in both Durango and Bayfield.
Colorado law requires county clerks to provide motor vehicle titling and registration services as agents of the Colorado Department of Revenue. The Durango office at 98 Everett Street, Suite C, fulfills this requirement. As such, the Bayfield Motor Vehicle office is a discretionary service that we have been pleased to be able to provide since 1996. The Driver's License Division, which has an office in Durango, is not operated by La Plata County. It is directly operated by the Colorado Department of Revenue.
La Plata County is anticipating a $7.1 million decline in revenue between 2016 and 2018, and is having to make difficult decisions about discretionary services the county provides as a result.
The Bayfield Motor Vehicle branch serves approximately 10,000 customers each year, at a total cost to the county of $13.70 per transaction. This figure includes staff time, facility, equipment and materials costs. In the Durango office, the total cost to the county per transaction is $6.70.
Closing the Bayfield branch office will not only save the county money with each transaction, but will also streamline the accounting and processing functions associated with motor vehicle services. The Bayfield staff will move to the Durango office to help offset the existing heavy workload there and continue to provide services to all county residents.
Hopefully you have heard on the radio, newspaper or through other means that La Plata County has seen property tax revenue fall 47 percent over the last several years. This is due to the price and production of natural gas falling so much. The result is that in 2018, we expect a $5.5 million gap between revenues and this year's operating expenses. In 2017, we already cut $2 million. Finding $5.5 million to trim is hard to find when you have already trimmed the fat from the budget over the last several years.
As a result, going into next year, La Plata County is going to have to make cuts in places that the commissioners and the community don't want to cut. While no decision has been made about the Bayfield Motor Vehicle Office, the simple fact is that services the county could afford to provide in the past, could be eliminated or reduced.
We regularly hear from the public that the county needs to "live within its means." Being unable to provide services like the county has in the past is what "living within our means" looks like right now. Voters twice rejected a small tax increase to help with road improvements and maintenance and that sent a clear message for the county to live within its means.
In addition to making cuts, for the last two years the county has, for the most part, not filled job vacancies when employees left. This has helped reduce personnel costs, but it also means that fewer employees are trying to perform the same work that more employees used to perform. Service suffers and it is frustrating to both the public and those of us who work for the county.
We don't want to make cuts. We want to be able to provide the good service residents are accustomed to. However, over the years, the oil and gas industry paid a big tab that the residents of La Plata County benefited from. Now that the price of gas is low and our aging fields are dropping in production, the county has to get by on much less money.
For perspective, we have spoken to a number of commissioners from other counties, including some with oil and gas production, and they pay taxes of more than 20 mills. We tax ourselves at 8.5 mills. Adjoining counties like Archuleta, Montezuma and San Juan County, Colorado, pay about double or more what La Plata County taxpayers pay.
We realize that this email goes well beyond the topic of the Motor Vehicle Office, but we think it's important to share the bigger picture, too.
Please stay involved on our budget discussions. We will have a public meeting on Oct. 17 to present a draft budget, and we certainly welcome feedback and ideas for addressing the revenue shortfalls that we anticipate for 2018.