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Saturday, May 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Monorail-tax crackdown adds confusion to vehicle licensing
By Mike Lindblom
A new regulation to crack down on monorail-tax evasion in Seattle has created an unexpected layer of paperwork for motorists across the state.
Every vehicle owner in Washington who renews license tabs at a neighborhood licensing agency must complete and sign a new form, under penalty of perjury, listing a home or business address. The new rule went into effect April 23.
The "Certificate of Fact for Address Verification" is meant to stymie Seattle residents who would duck a car-tab tax for the $1.75 billion monorail by registering cars to an out-of-town address or post-office box. Only Seattle residents pay the tax.
However, the state Department of Licensing (DOL) is using the form statewide to make the process uniform. The new system would make it easier for future transportation agencies in the state to collect a car-tab tax.
But in its first week, the system is creating confusion and delays for the public, particularly people who live outside the monorail's taxing area.
Liz Farrell, a title clerk at Eastside Auto License in Kirkland, said it's adding two to three minutes to each transaction.
"It's been pretty stressful for a lot of us," Farrell said.
Clerks there handed out forms, clipboards and pens yesterday so customers could complete the forms as they waited in line.
One customer, Dana Connelly of Redmond, said he squandered an hour. He showed up to renew the tabs on a 1997 Mitsubishi on behalf of his son, an auto painter who was busy working for Connelly's collision-repair business.
But when the father arrived at the front of the line, he was told the state would accept the form only from registered owners. So he phoned his son and told him to break away from work and sign for the tabs on a state Internet site. After that, Connelly got back in the line and waited until a clerk brought him the new tabs.
The situation has calmed there since Thursday, when Redmond resident Debbie Sarbiewksi said people "were just exploding" at a clerk. She said she tried to renew tabs for her 75-year-old mother's 1992 Oldsmobile but had to return home from Kirkland with a form for her to sign.
"I think it's rude that they made this a law and didn't publicize it and didn't tell anybody," she said.
Fred Maxie, owner of Ballard Auto Licensing Agency near the monorail route to downtown and West Seattle, estimated the delays at four to five minutes per client, not counting 1½ hours yesterday explaining the rule to people over the phone.
Maxie said reactions range from verbal abuse to support for the monorail. He says the paperwork is worthwhile because it ensures that drivers pay their share of taxes, and he explains that to clients.
"It's always a help when you can do it person to person and accept the fact the messenger, a lot of times, gets the brunt of the criticism," he said.
At Puget Sound Licensing Agency in Rainier Valley, clerks helped drivers figure out the forms. "It ain't too much of a problem. Just a waste of time," said 82-year-old driver Charlie Lacey of Rainier Beach, who paid $18 in monorail tax on his gold-colored 1991 Chrysler. (The monorail tax is currently $85 per $10,000 of vehicle value, going up to $140 with the June 2004 car tabs.)
Besides helping the monorail, the address requirement should recover a small amount of money for Sound Transit and possibly for future highway projects.
Those who register by mail or online do not have to obtain address forms. The mail-in renewal form has a spot to make an address declaration, but the licensing department doesn't require a signature.
The online renewal form includes a spot where drivers must affirm their home address is correct.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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