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Fairfax County residents unenthusiastic about custom county license plates

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

Fairfax County wants its own license plate as a way for the county's 1.1 million residents to show off their civic pride. The problem is only 92 residents in Virginia's largest municipality have expressed any interest in having a Fairfax plate on their car.

It's the second time in 15 years that the county has asked the state to create a Fairfax plate only to have its residents reject the idea of paying an extra $25 for the custom plates. Even some of the county's supervisors are reluctant to jump on the bandwagon and apply for a custom plate.

"People aren't getting any benefit from this," said Thomas L. Cranmer, first vice president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance. "I would not even consider it. All you're doing is paying to show your civic pride."

Fairfax officials first proposed getting their own license plate in 1999, but scrapped the idea because they couldn't get 350 residents to sign up, the minimum number that the state Department of Motor Vehicles requires to show that the plates will be profitable. Once the plates are printed, $15 from each sale and annual renewal would be given to the county.

The Board of Supervisors, seeing the plates as a way to fund the World Police and Fire Games it's hosting in 2015, voted in January to try again for a custom plate, hoping to replicate the success of Fairfax City, where Mayor Scott Silverthorne said the plates generate about $5,000 annually for the preservation and restoration of historical sites since their introduction in 2001.

But before the county can follow in the city's footsteps, lawmakers in Virginia's largest municipality must boost license plate sales. Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield, who proposed the second attempt, estimates the county can raise as much as $250,000 if sales are as successful as those in Fairfax City, which managed to get 350 preorders for its plates even though its 22,549 residents represent only a fraction of the county's population.

Fairfax officials said they still hope to get the 350 preorders in coming months, even though many residents -- and even some members of the Board of Supervisors -- have yet to sign up for the plates.

"We're doing everything that we can," said Visit Fairfax CEO Barry Biggar, who is collecting the applications. "The interest is there, but because there's no set deadline, people are looking at the application and saying, 'I'll wait until my registration needs to be renewed.' "

To generate greater interest, Biggar said the tourism organization plans to promote the plates by placing cards at library checkout counters while also promoting them in newsletters.

"I think of this as both [a way to show civic pride and promote Fairfax County]," said Supervisor Linda Smyth, D-Providence. "I submitted my application the first time, and I did it again now. I really do think that we can do this."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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