Contributed photo
A vehicle formerly owned by John Chaponis with a fake Maine license plate on it. The car was never registered in Maine, but Chaponis uses it to highlight the issue (Contributed photo)

HARTFORD, CT — The number of Connecticut vehicles registered in the state of Maine is growing, but the state of Connecticut has no idea how many of its residents are illegally registering their cars in other states.

Department of Motor Vehicles Deputy Commissioner Antonio Guerrera said they have no central database that would track something like that.

The Maine Secretary of State’s office reports that 1,457 Connecticut residents have registered their cars up north where it only costs $35. In Connecticut, it costs $80 for two years plus another $10 for the Clean Air Act fee and another $10 for the Passports to Park program.

“We’ve got to stay competitive and that includes, you know, the cost of having a license here in the state of Connecticut compared to other states,” Gov. Ned Lamont said last week.

At the same time, he said it doesn’t seem fair that residents are registering their vehicles in other states and using them in Connecticut.

“It’s still tricky. You can’t sit around registering your car out-of-state, using it here on a full-time basis,” Lamont added.

It’s illegal, too, although the $1,000 penalty is rarely, if ever, enforced.

John Chaponis, tax assessor in Colchester, doesn’t believe the registration fee is what’s encouraging people to illegally register their vehicles in other states: It’s the property taxes — a problem felt by local assessors and communities across the state.

The General Assembly created a 12-member task force this year to study compliance with the state’s motor-vehicle registration laws. The task force also must develop recommendations to prevent Connecticut residents from registering motor vehicles out-of-state. It must submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the Transportation Committee by January 1.

Chaponis said while it’s true that Connecticut’s registration fee is higher than Maine’s $35, the real financial savings come from avoiding the local property tax and many times, much lower insurance. 

“I recently found a Colchester resident that had a brand-new truck and car both with Maine plates and also bearing a sticker showing the vehicle was purchased from our local car dealer here in Colchester,” Chaponis said “After investing significant man-hours in proving the vehicles were here on a daily basis, we added the vehicles to the tax rolls and generated $2,100.”

He gets the temptation. 

“Frankly, I think anyone would be tempted to register in Maine in order to save $2,100 per year.  Especially, if they feel that no one will try to enforce the law,” he added.

Guerrera said the Department of Motor Vehicles will give the task force any resources it needs to complete its review.

New Connecticut residents have only sixty days to drive on an out-of-state registration before it is no longer valid and accepted.

Tax assessors can put a person on the tax rolls if they have proof the vehicle is being driven in Connecticut. However, those efforts are labor-intensive.

Chaponis said he found a criminal justice intern from Manchester Community College whose job it was to discover, list and value motor vehicles in town.

“While this exercise brought in thousands of additional tax dollars, it involved an enormous amount of man-hours from the intern and two employees in my office.  The residual effect was that we were not able to devote the appropriate amount of time discovering, listing and valuing of our Real Estate or our Personal Property Grand Lists.”

Nonetheless, Colchester is assessing over one million dollars for vehicles not registered in Connecticut as a result of those efforts.  This number includes vehicles that have no registration at all and may be parked in someone’s yard.

He said few assessors have the resources to chase tax evaders this way.

“When you enforce the registration compliance, you kill two birds with one stone and it brings the vehicles back onto the Tax List,” Chaponis said. “There has to be a better solution and a fair administration of the local property tax has to become a primary goal.”

Chaponis knows it’s only a task force but he said “the Connecticut Association of Assessing Officers (CAAO) is hopeful that this newly created Task Force will be able to address this form of tax evasion that is mushrooming out of control.”