New Plates are Still Only an Option, Clerks Say

County Clerks from Northern and Central New York, responding to apparent confusion over new state vehicle registration renewal forms that have begun to arrive in local mailboxes, are reminding drivers that they don’t need to replace their license plates with the new “Empire Gold” plates.

The new plates are being offered as an option to every driver who renews a registration—for an extra fee of as much as $45. A small number of drivers—fewer than one percent, according to state officials—have opted to buy the replacement plates so far.

Albany decided to go ahead and create the plates even after a popular uprising and petition drive led by the Clerks caused the Governor and State Legislators to abandon a proposal to make them mandatory. But some drivers are apparently confused by an awkwardly worded registration form that has begun arriving in mailboxes, thinking they still must pay for the more expensive plates.

“We made Albany back down on mandating the new licenses, and nothing has changed. Drivers who want to pay extra for the new plates have that option, but drivers who don’t, can keep the plates they already have, and pocket the savings,” said St. Lawrence County Clerk Patty Ritchie, who launched the anti-plate petition drive that eight weeks later forced Albany to change course.

Ritchie urged drivers to read the renewal forms carefully, and to call your local County Clerk’s DMV office with any questions, to avoid an additional $5 fee that Albany has begun charging motorists who call the state registration phone line.

“New Yorkers said NO to mandatory plate replacement, and that saved taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary expense. But that doesn’t mean that some drivers didn’t still want them, at their own option and expense,” said Oswego County Clerk George Williams, who said he had fielded a number of queries, mostly from senior citizens, as the new plates started to appear on New York highways.

“New Yorkers should look closely at the renewal form, and understand that the new plates are optional, and they do come at an added cost,” said Jefferson County Clerk Cheryl Lane. “Even better, you should mail or bring your registration renewals to the County Clerk’s DMV office, so a portion of your fees can stay local and help hold down property taxes.”

Counties keep about 13 percent of all DMV fees collected through the Clerks’ offices, but receive no funding from registrations that are mailed to the state offices in Utica.

In addition to motor vehicle transactions, which are handled at several convenient locations in each county, the County Clerks also process Passport applications, provide notary services and, in Oswego and St. Lawrence Counties, handle pistol permits.

In St. Lawrence County, offices are located in Canton, Gouverneur, Massena and Ogdensburg. For more information, call: (315) 379-2237.

Oswego County offices are located in Oswego, Fulton and Pulaski. Call (315) 349-8300 for information.

Jefferson County offices are located in Watertown and Fort Drum. Call (315) 785-3023 for information.