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Coming increase in vehicle-license fees flusters some residents

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Posted: Friday, June 6, 2003 10:00 pm

While a state-mandated vehicle-license fee increase might still be a month off, county residents are expressing anger and dismay at the possibility.

No one knows the exact date the vehicle-license fee will increase, but Russ Lopez, a spokesman for the governor, says it will probably happen in July.

That's when the automatic trigger for the increase will probably be met, Lopez said. That trigger is set up under the state's taxation code, said Anita Gore, information officer for the state Department of Finance.

Under taxation code 10754, if there isn't enough money in the general fund to pay for programs, the Department of Motor Vehicles is required to increase vehicle-license fees, Gore said.

This particular tax code was set up under then-Gov. Pete Wilson in case the budget ever got bad, Lopez said. Of course, when the tax code was set up, the state was flush with money and lawmakers decided to give back some of that money by reducing how much vehicle owners paid to register their cars.

But things have changed and the state is now facing a $38-billion deficit. Those state fiscal woes will probably trigger the increase, Lopez said.

Still, no matter what the reason for the increase, county residents said they aren't happy about paying more just to keep their cars on the road. Vehicle-license fees are normally due when residents register their vehicles.

Just ask Ty Rose, a Lodi resident doing business at that city's Department of Motor Vehicles.

"What can we do about it?" he asked. "We can't stop it."

Rose, 29, said he's going to be particularly hard-hit, because he owns three cars, a boat and a motorcycle.

Like Rose, Joanne Fitzpatrick, 43, owns several cars.

She and her husband have three cars, and two teenagers. In fact, one of those teens is ready to drive.

"This is going to make it difficult for kids to get out and be independent," she said. Though her husband pays all the fees on the vehicles, she's still concerned. "There's got to be a better way," she said.

For Linda Smalley, 47, another Lodi resident, there was despair in her voice.

"I feel like there's nothing we can do about it," she said outside the Lodi DMV. She and her husband have four cars, of which one is brand-new.

Aaron Spelling said he didn't think there was much use in complaining, given that lawmakers know people feel they have to drive. He was at the Lodi DMV to get his car cleared for smog.

While he pays $82 in fees for his 1969 vehicle, Spelling said, he thinks others will be hit harder.

"It's going to wipe some people out and push certain ones over the edge," he said. "I have to have my car."

And while residents were contemplating the why and how much, automobile dealerships in Lodi said they haven't heard much about it from customers.

At Sanborn Chevrolet, sales manager Gabe Moitso said there haven't been too many rumblings.

"There's been nothing so far," he said. "We just had a couple and they wanted to know how much more the fees would be."

He said the couple was looking at a 2003 Chevrolet Venture. The fees, he said, will be about $223.

"They were concerned," he said.

At Lodi Honda, general manager Dennis Fulfer said he sees it differently.

"That's what they were before," he said. But so far, the impending fees haven't had an affect on sales, he added.

Then again, he figured that when fees were higher in the past, that wasn't enough to stop sales then either.

Also, most of the vehicles he sells are not as high-priced items as an SUV or truck.

"But it's a concern for us when it happens," he said. "It could potentially affect sales. But it hasn't before."

Dave Hilgado at West Coast Motors on Cherokee Lane said the worrying for car buyers will come when and if the fees kick in. "For a $10,000 to $12,000 vehicle, right now we estimate the average DMV fee to be around $200. But it could adversely add $200 more," he said.

In Tracy, Sarah Chow, 26, is a substitute teacher looking for a job. She said if the fee helps save education programs, such as adding more teachers to classrooms, she's all for it.

Chow drives a 1996 GEO Prism, but said she didn't remember how much she paid in fees last year.

Tracy resident Eddie Zaragoza, 62, said he didn't realize fees could double or triple.

"That's a big jump," he said. "I'll be able to pay it, but it's a big chunk," said the retiree, who drives a 1996 Ford Taurus.

"What can you do?" he asked.

Those concerns might have affected business at Tracy Dodge-Chrysler Jeep.

Mike Ruiz, a dealership salesman, said a recent weekend's sales were down.

"It seems to have affected us," he said.

Richard Medierosa, sales manager at Tracy's GM Superstore, said fees are just reverting to their normal level.

He recently had a couple who both worked for the county Sheriff's Department come in and buy a 2003 Yukon.

"They didn't mind," he said

Plus, he said, interests rates are low, somewhat offsetting any increases in fees.

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