Authorities Go After Cars With Out-of-State Plates

If you have out-of-state license plates to avoid Connecticut car taxes, the tax man might be catching up with you soon.

The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters have learned that local officials are asking other states to hand over names and aggressively going after people who do this.

In just a few hours, we found a lot of people driving around with Maine license plates in the heart of Connecticut.

When we asked about it, they'd move away from our cameras and give us responses like "right off the highway."

Another Hartford driver admitted to the Troubleshooters that he got Maine plates without ever stepping foot there.

Maine permits people to order the plates online through a handful of companies. 

The driving force behind Connecticut residents registering their vehicles elsewhere is high car taxes.

In Hartford, for example, a car valued at $7,000 would cost its owner roughly $700 per year in car taxes.

“People do all kinds of things to avoid taxes, right? They buy things in other states ... and that's why people go to Delaware and New Hampshire and all these other places, so yeah, I could see why people would do it," Rebecca Mitchell, of Branford, said.   

“I think it's horrible. The more people that do this the less money that goes into municipalities and our taxes go up," Dave Overbaugh, of Watertown, said.

Local police have started cracking down on these drivers, and some ended up in court.

Now the Troubleshooters have learned that tax assessors are also taking action.

The assessors association sent out requests to Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and Florida, asking for lists of all cars registered in those states where the owners have Connecticut mailing addresses.

Maine and Vermont have shared their lists and Rhode Island said it plans to soon. Most of the other states have refused so far, citing federal driver privacy laws.

“As assessors, our job is to discover, list and value property. The first part of that is discovering it. And it's hard to do that when you can't get the information you need to do that with," John Rainaldi, of the Connecticut Association of Assessing Officers, told the Troubleshooters,

That said, assessors have put information from Vermont and Maine to good use. Rainaldi said his office in Manchester has added about two dozen vehicles to the tax rolls.

Hartford officials said they found a few hundred cases.  

“We learned that we had almost 300 cars here from the city of Hartford that are registered in the state of Maine." mayoral spokeswoman Maribel LaLuz said.

The tax office contacted the owners of those vehicle and one Hartford driver said his son's a policeman and that "he was saying they're gonna come down on that. They sent me a thing about it. I gotta register in Hartford." 

Getting these vehicles back on the tax rolls can means millions of dollars to cities.

Some, like Waterbury and New Haven, have used a company called Municipal Tax Services of Shelton to track down people registering their vehicles out of state. New Haven's city controller Daryl Jones said MTS gets about half of what it recovers.

"We have over four years about a million dollars collected by MTS. And we the city, has collected about half a million dollars," Jones said. "That's real money."

The hope, going forward, is that all this legwork won't be needed.

Many people on our Facebook pages said car taxes are just too high.

A new state law goes into effect next year that will cap vehicle taxes.

It will cut the vehicle tax rate in Hartford, for example, by almost half.

Connecticut tax assessors might eventually be able to catch holdouts still registering vehicles out of state.

Some states that did not share their car registration info said they would honor the requests if they came from our state DMV. We'll let you know if that happens.

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