Tracking Down Auto-Tax Scofflaws
Tax assessor Mike Minardi says Barrington is making a more concerted effort to locate owners of vehicles who have registered them out of state to avoid paying taxes.
Four vehicles with out-of-state license plates were parked in the student lot at Barrington High School on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 15.
The chances are good that they belong to owners who live in Barrington but have registered those vehicles out of state to pay less or no tax on them, said Tax Assessor Mike Minardi.
And Barrington wants that practice to stop.
"People are stealing thousands from the town,” said Minardi.
“I’m looking at 34 instances right now where vehicles are registered out of state,” said Minardi as he paged through a stack of photographs of vehicles in Barrington with license plates from Florida, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
There is no tax on vehicles in Florida and New Hampshire and smaller rates in Massachusetts and Vermont, he said.
“It’s wrong,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to do this. But it’s wrong.”
Many other Barrington residents agree with Minardi. Complaints come in to him all the time about vehicles with out-of-state plates. The typical refrain: Why do I have to pay the tax and he doesn’t?
“I tell them there is only so much I can do,” he said. “Many people lock them up in a garage. I can only go after vehicles I can identify.”
After Minardi has identified a vehicle registered elsewhere, he asks the police department to locate the owner. Minardi then sends a letter to the owner telling them that he knows they have a vehicle that has to be registered in Rhode Island.
Minardi said he might threaten them with turning over their name to the RI Department of Motor Vehicles.
“I’m told they will pull a driver’s license,” he said.
A more typical penalty is a ticket for $85 from the Barrington police department.
Some owners will register the vehicle in Rhode Island after he contacts them; others will continue to skirt the law that every vehicle in Rhode Island for more than 30 days must be registered here.
“Nobody’s chasing down someone living here for a month or two,” he said. “We’re just making a more concerted effort to get those cars that should be registered here.”
Barrington loses $42 per $1,000 of assessed value when those vehicles are registered elsewhere. The 34 vehicles he has targeted right now might yield another $15,000 for the town.
“It’s not a lot of money,” Minardi said. “It’s the principle of the thing. They should be paying the tax. Why should you pay and your neighbor isn't?"