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Berkeley County acting on out-of-state license plates

April 11, 2001

Berkeley County acting on out-of-state license plates



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


The Berkeley County Sheriff's Department is cracking down on people living in the county who have failed to get West Virginia license plates for their vehicles.

Two road checks this year netted 35 people living in the state with expired plates, said Sheriff Randy Smith. Twenty of them were issued citations; 15 received warnings.

Smith's deputies also have been patrolling subdivisions and other developments, placing warning letters on cars with out-of-state plates. The idea is to let them know about the state law that requires a change of vehicle registration within 30 days of taking up residence in West Virginia.

"This has always been a thorn in the side of the public and I made it part of my campaign" in 2000, Smith said. "We started doing it more as the weather got warmer and we had time."

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He set up road checks, stopping every vehicle, looking for West Virginians with out-of-state plates and for other infractions, such as driving with a suspended license.

The issue is important because of the financial implications, said Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss.

When someone registers a vehicle, the state takes a 5 percent fee based on value - for example, $1,000 on a $20,000 vehicle. Each year, vehicle owners are required to pay a personal property tax on their vehicles. For Berkeley County residents, the cost is $145.90 on a $10,000 vehicle. The county gets abut 20 percent of that. The money helps pay for government services.

"It's an issue of fairness," Strauss said. "People are receiving services and not paying for them."

Some people are brazen about their activity, Smith said.

"We stopped one woman and she told us she had been living in the state for six months," he said. "When we asked her why she hadn't registered, she said 'I was waiting for you to catch me.' We gave her a ticket."

"We are not trying to be bullies," Smith said. "We are simply reminding people of their legal obligation to register their vehicles."

He recently received two letters from General Motors plant employees complaining about people who worked there who had not changed their plates.

"These people were bragging they hadn't changed their plates in years," Smith said.

He plans to talk to managers of major businesses "who have a lot of out-of-state plates in their parking lots." He wants them to remind their employees of the law.

The deputies have caught some scofflaws as they took their children to schools, since enrolling a child in school is one of the tests that indicates whether a person is a resident.

Anyone convicted the first time of breaking the law faces a fine of up to $500, said Magistrate Joan Bragg. A second offense can bring a fine up to $500 and up to six months in jail or both, she said.

"We see this sporadically, although we haven't seen too much recently," she said.

County Assessor Evelyn Fink said she commends Smith, but said catching cheaters is hard.

"It's bad in all border counties," she said. Her office sends out notices when they believe someone is cheating.

"You hear it all, from 'I'm driving the company car' to people were just visiting," she said. "It's real hard. You just have to keep monitoring. Neighbors are really the best monitors."

WHO IS A RESIDENT?

Under West Virginia law, a person is presumed to be a resident if he or she:

- Is registered to vote

- Has a child enrolled in a public school

- Is receiving public assistance from the state

- Has "continuously remained" in the state except for infrequent or brief absences for 30 days

- Is working in the state, except for those commuting from another state

- Has filed for a homestead property tax exemption.

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