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Aluminum shortage likely to force new plate numbers

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License plates

NEW TAGS: Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts revealed the state’s new license plate design in May. The ongoing aluminum shortage has changed the way plates are distributed to counties, and may impact local vehicle owners who hope to get the same number.

WAHOO – The impacts of supply chain issues continue to crystallize in unexpected ways. In Saunders County’s case, the ongoing aluminum shortage is likely going to rob what, for some people, has become sentimental: their license plate number.

Saunders County Treasurer Amber Scanlon said the county is one of 13 counties that will receive their new state license plates quarterly, instead of in a whole year’s supply. 

She said the county is slated to receive 4,000 license plates – from plate number 6-A1 to 6-A4000 – in November, which would then be issued between January and March of next year. That means if someone with a license plate number outside of that range is up for renewal, they will have to receive one of the 4,000 license plates that the county has in stock. 

“And if you renew after April, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get (your number) back,” Scanlon said. “So it’s going to greatly impact people getting their same plate numbers back, and I have no idea how that’s going to play out.”

Under normal circumstances, county DMVs do their best to give drivers their previous license plate numbers if they request it, she said. 

“Most counties have tried to be very accommodating and try to get people their license plate numbers back,” Scanlon said. “Some people will say, ‘Well, my dad had that plate since the 1950s.’ But if I don’t have the plate in stock and your vehicle is up for renewal, then I can’t give it to you.”

Scanlon said she attended a meeting last week with county officials from southeast Nebraska where state DMV Administrator Betty Johnson gave an explanation about the aluminum shortage’s impact on the state’s license plates. 

“She apologized and said, ‘You’re going to end up having some difficult conversations in your offices, and we understand that. It’s unfortunate, but we’ve really tried to resolve this every way we can,’” Scanlon said.

The other 12 counties that will receive quarterly supplies of license plates in 2023 are the counties with the largest populations behind Douglas County, Lancaster County and Sarpy County. The state’s smaller counties will receive a full year’s license plate supply. 

Residents in Nebraska’s three largest counties are used to receiving new license plate numbers every time the state issues a new design, as the alphanumeric license plate numbering system employed by those counties cycles from the beginning through all of the available numbers. 

But in general, counties like Saunders receive their full yearly supply well in advance of the change to a new license plate design, allowing people to retain their license plate numbers. In 2017, when the current license plate was introduced, Scanlon said Saunders County received about 15,000 plates to begin the year.

“We’re going to be lucky if we have 4,000,” Scanlon said. 

She said her office is at the mercy of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services – which manufactures the state’s license plates – when it comes to the number of plates Saunders County will receive.  

Scanlon informed the Saunders County Board of Supervisors of the potential issue at their Sept. 6 meeting, and warned them of the potential backlash they may receive from drivers who don’t receive their longtime plate. 

And no matter how many angles from which she thinks about potential solutions, it’s hard to discern a workaround. 

“We keep going back and forth in the office every day. We talk about it like ‘Will this work? Will that work?’” Scanlon said. “It is what it is, and it’s super unfortunate.”

In May, the state unveiled its new license plate design, which pays homage to the mosaic artwork in the state capitol.

Sam Crisler is a reporter for The Ashland Gazette. Reach him via email at samuel.crisler@wahoonewspaper.com.

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