Front Royal May Reject Va. Fees for 'Abusive Drivers'
Saturday, July 21, 2007; Page B01
The council is scheduled to vote Monday on a resolution that would prevent its police officers from enforcing Virginia's "abusive driving" fees.
If it's approved, the measure, sponsored by council member Thomas Sayre (R), could set up a legal fight over whether Virginia's local jurisdictions have to participate in the state effort to collect the fees to help pay for transportation improvements.
Since the fees went into effect July 1, more than 130,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that legislators repeal the measures. The fees range from $900 to $3,000 and apply to driving infractions that rise to the felony or misdemeanor level.
But the fees have become so unpopular that some Front Royal council members don't want their 10-member police force to be associated with them.
For decades, Virginia municipalities have had the right to make traffic offenses a local, instead of a state, charge. Front Royal, like many small towns, has embraced the authority as a way to collect revenue from traffic offenses.
Sayre says the fees are unfair to the town's 14,000 residents and motorists who pass through Front Royal's two-lane highways.
"I am in court daily, and I see people all the time who cannot afford to pay normal court costs and fines, so they are not going to be able to afford this," said Sayre, a lawyer who also is vice chairman of the Warren County Republican Party. "The governor and the legislature may not be willing to eliminate the civil remedial fines, but we are. Not in our town."
Under the Front Royal proposal, people cited for driving under the influence would still be subject to the state fees. But those charged with certain lesser offenses, such as reckless driving or driving without a license, would not have to pay. The resolution would apply only to tickets written by the Front Royal police. Anyone charged by the Warren County sheriff or the Virginia State Police, which do not come under town control, would still have to pay.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) noted that the recently approved transportation bill, which imposed the fees, says the law applies to state drunken driving and reckless driving ordinances as well as "substantially similar local ordinances." The fees are paid out over three years, so someone charged with a crime that warrants a fee, such as driving 20 mph over the speed limit or recklessly causing an accident, will pay the District Court the first year. The Department of Motor Vehicles collects the fees the second and third years.
"The town may not collect it, but they are going to have to notify DMV, and DMV will collect it," Griffith said.
But Sayre says Front Royal officials would urge local clerks of court to not cooperate with the DMV.