SEBRING — For Brook Shaffer, paying extra dollars to buy a specialty license plate is not a new idea.
The former resident of Highlands County has been supporting the conservation of manatees for a quarter of a century through Florida’s Specialty License Plate program.
“I have always believed in conservation of wildlife,” she said. “It’s (buying the license plate) an easy way to know I am donating for conservation of manatees.”
In Highlands County, more than 1,000 people support various causes through buying a speciality license plate that can up the cost of the plate by more than $70.
The increased cost can include various fees. From that, $25 goes to the organization supported by the plate.
For the past several years, the variety of those specialty plates has remained the same because of a moratorium on new ones. But this year, the Florida Legislature approved new ones that will benefit “Fallen Law Enforcement Officers,” the Florida Sheriff’s Association, Keiser University and the Moffitt Cancer Center. Those will be available later this year.
In Highlands County, if the number of speciality plates sold is an indication, visitors should be wary of talking about their support for another university or its football team other than the University of Florida.
State statistics show that as of this month, residents bought 534 plates, the most of any speciality plate offered.
That compares with 213 for Florida State University, two for University of North Florida, 25 for University of Central Florida, 99 for University of Miami, 36 for University of South Florida, seven for University of Tampa, two for University of West Florida, two for New College of Florida, four for Nova Southeastern University, one for Palm Beach Atlantic University, one for Florida Institute of Technology, one for Flagler College, 25 for Florida A&M University, four for Florida Atlantic University, two for Florida Gulf Coast University , two for Florida Memorial University and five for Florida Southern College.
Besides those for the University of Florida and Florida State University, the most popular specialty plates in Highlands County include: Agriculture, 403; Marine Corps, 220; Protect the Panther, 190; Choose Life, 183; Protect Wild Dolphins, 153; Salutes Firefighters, 141; and Save The Manatee, 132.
Statewide, University of Florida and Florida State University were the top two.
University of South Florida, which ranked 31 in the state, collected more than $400,000 during the past year, with more than $200,000 going toward scholarships, officials said, adding that the remaining funds helped academic and alumni programs, among other things.
Shaffer said the $25 from her license plate goes to support manatee research. She’s also involved with an organization that supports the conservation of manatees. Through it, she said, she adopted a manatee, which has since become a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.
Terri Lynn Crutchfield, a Highlands County resident, said she has the Florida Wildlife plate because it “reminds me of time spent with my father, John Thomas, in state parks and to always appreciate the small gifts that life has to offer each one of us.”
The money goes to the Florida Wildlife Foundation, which uses it for research, planting and education, she said.
Her plate also is personalized and has the letters Fly-TLC. She said her father, who is a retired captain/chief pilot for the former Florida Fish & Game, taught her how to fly and nurtured her love for nature and animals.
But some of the organizations that receive the money are not local. One person on Facebook said they have a plate for the Humane Society.
Judy Spiegel, president of the Highlands County Humane Society, said the money goes to a national humane society, which provides grants to local chapters. But, so far, because of the intense competition, the Highlands County organization hasn’t received money, she said.
Michael Towner, a spokesman for MyFloridaSpecialty Plate, said that any organization seeking a specialty plate must get approval from the Florida Legislature because the state decided at one time too many were being offered.