When William Sullivan received a letter from the Kansas Department of Revenue this fall telling him he was going to lose his personalized license plate, he was upset.
Sullivan said he has had the same vanity plates since the 1970s in memory of his father. The plate reads SULLY.
"My dad was named Sully and was mayor of Wichita in the '40s, so it's in his honor," he said of his father, Odom Sullivan. "I tried to talk to the legislators but they didn't return my call."
Sullivan is losing his tag because there is at least one Kansan who has held the SULLY tag longer than he has.
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A new state law passed earlier this year is eliminating all duplicate vanity plates, starting in 2010.
"They have those little county designators up there, but at 70 miles an hour, you can't really tell which county a tag is from," said Carmen Alldritt, director of vehicles for the Department of Revenue. "Kansas is one of a handful of states that was allowing the capability of multiple registrations of the same vanity plate."
Alldritt said there are around 85,000 vanity tags in Kansas, with around 33,000 duplicates. Letters were sent to every vanity plate holder, informing them whether or not they will get to keep their tag.
In the past, there could be a SULLY tag for each of the 105 Kansas counties, as well as one for cars, trucks and motorcycles in the same county. That would bring the total possible number of duplicates to more than 300, which caused headaches for law enforcement agencies, officials said.
Since he received his letter in October, Sullivan said he has been chasing a phantom via telephone, never reaching anyone who could explain to him why the changes were being made and what he could do in response to those changes.
"I've had these tags since the '70s and all of the sudden they're going to narrow it down to one per state?" Sullivan said. "It doesn't make sense to eliminate that because they're going to lose all that income."
But officials estimate that the new law will have a small effect on the revenue generated from vanity plate sales. The plates are on a five-year cycle, with the next tag design and cycle starting in 2010. Vanity plates add an additional $46 to the registration and tax rates associated with normal tags.
The sale of vanity tags brings in around $3.4 million in revenue over a five-year span.
"Many of the people that aren't renewing weren't planning to renew anyway," Alldritt said. "Some people just hate the new tag design, or can't really afford it in this economy, so they just choose not to get a new one."
The change stems from an overhaul to the computer systems at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The $40 million project will work to make record keeping at the DMV more efficient and better link the DMV and law enforcement agencies.
"This project is going to modernize the way our department runs, but it will also be a big improvement for public safety," said Gena Terlizzi, the project's communications specialist.
In Sedgwick County, the changes to the vanity plate procedures will have minimal effect. Alldritt said that most of the $46 fee goes to the state.
"My projection is that it will hurt revenue for the state, not Sedgwick County," said county treasurer Ron Estes.
He said that Sedgwick County is typically at the top of the list of vanity plate buyers. Estes said they won't know until next year how the new law will affect sales in the area.
In the meantime, Sullivan will have to settle for a change to the tag he has held for decades.
"They told me I've got seven digits, and if I had to I could put my initial in front of it," Sullivan said. "But it doesn't mean as much.
"I want to keep my old one in the worst way."