A petition signed by more than 1,600 people was presented to the La Plata County Commission on Tuesday morning – it asks to keep the county clerk’s motor vehicle registration office open in Bayfield.
The commissioners said the county does not have the money to do so, but they asked County Clerk Tiffany Parker if keeping the office open one day a week is a possibility.
Parker said she will investigate the option.
Bayfield Mayor Matt Salka asked if the office could be kept open, even part time, and said the town is willing to reduce or eliminate the rent it charges the county to house the office.
Parker said the rent cost $40,640 in 2017 and has increased at 3 percent annually. That breaks down to $3,386 per month, a figure that raised Bayfield residents’ eyebrows, where commercial space is relatively inexpensive.
Phyllis Ludwig presented the petitions, which were circulated in Bayfield and Ignacio.
“This is a service Bayfield needs and deserves,” she said, adding that many older residents have difficulties driving to Durango to get their vehicles licensed, and many of them don’t use computers or don’t want to use a kiosk, which recently was installed at the Pine River Public Library.
Commissioners Julie Westendorff and Brad Blake thanked her for the input. Commissioner Gwen Lachelt was not present.
“This is a large number within La Plata County,” Westendorff said, eying the stack of petitions.
Salka said keeping the office open even part time would benefit the town. “It brings people here from Durango and Ignacio,” he added.
Addressing the commissioners, Parker said, “I completely understand where people are coming from,” adding that closing the office was a difficult recommendation for her to make. The office provides vehicle and titling services, and it is a voting location for elections.
The Bayfield office handles about 10,000 transactions per year at a cost of $13.70 per transaction, versus 60,000 in Durango at a cost of $6.70 per transaction.
Westendorff said residents have told her “you need to cut somewhere else.”
“We are cutting everywhere else,” she said. After two requests for a tax increase to fund county roads failed, Westendorff said county officials got the message from voters “to live within our means.”
“Living within our means looks like this,” she said of the estimated $7.1 million decline in revenue between 2016 and 2018. “I don’t like the way this looks.”
Other county departments are facing staff cuts and program cuts as well, she said. The county now has three building inspectors instead of four, and the Sheriff’s Office has four fewer deputies this year. The Department of Human Services had to cut a program for at-risk youth, which was slated to take in 20 youth and now will help only 12.
The commission is scheduled to begin studying its 2018 budget on Tuesday, Oct. 10 said County Manager JoAnn Spina.