EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 18, 2010

City fights out-of-state plates

By Mike LaBella

HAVERHILL — If you live in the city and register your car in New Hampshire or another state, beware.

Police said they will issue fewer warnings and more citations to residents caught with out-of-state license plates.

Mayor James Fiorentini said he has told police to hand out more citations. The order came after a meeting of the mayor, police and city councilors last week.

Councilor Robert Scatamacchia said police received 330 reports of out-of-state plates since 2006, but only seven citations were issued. Scatamacchia is chairman of a committee studying the problem of Haverhill residents registering their cars out of state to avoid paying excise taxes to the city and save on insurance.

When asked about issuing more citations to violators, police Chief Alan DeNaro said he will comply with the mayor's plan.

The city also wants to make it easier for residents to report people who break the car registration law. Officials said they are working to set up a phone hot line and a spot on the city's website where reports can be made. People can now call police to make a report.

Scatamacchia, head of the city's Planning and Development Committee, said Haverhill has been losing out on excise tax dollars and fines to violators, and the public is being put at risk by drivers who register out of state to avoid paying insurance or to save on payments.

Scatamacchia and Councilor Sven Amirian, a member of the committee, met April 12 with the mayor and police chief to discuss a plan for cracking down on violators.

Police have said many reports of illegal registrations turn out to be false, and that in many cases warnings to owners were enough to make them comply with the law.

But, Scatamacchia said, "Isn't it easier to cite them rather than warn them and then have to check on them again?"

In some instances, the supposed violators actually lived in New Hampshire and worked in Haverhill doing jobs like baby-sitting, police said.

But Scatamacchia said cars with plates from states other than New Hampshire are repeatedly seen parked at some Haverhill homes.

"Instead of going after New Hampshire cars, go after cars registered in other states, too," Scatamacchia said "No one is hiring a baby sitter from Tennessee."

He said some cities enforce the law and have been very successful at getting residents to comply.

In Lawrence, police Chief John Romero took a hard-line with car registration violators beginning in 2001, before he created his city's insurance fraud task force. He assigned officers to follow up on every tip of cars registered illegally out of state.

"When I got to Lawrence, this was one of the major issues we addressed," Romero said. "People were really upset about out-of-state registrations.

"People were upset that people were registering out of state, primarily in New Hampshire to avoid at the high (Massachusetts insurance) premiums," he said.

Romero said his team followed up on every lead and over the last six or seven years have issued more than 500 citations of $400 each to residents who violated the registration law.

"The idea wasn't to generate money, but to get people to comply with the laws," Romero said. "We were missing out on excise tax, so there was money to be lost, but the idea of the ticket was to modify behavior."

He said officers recorded the times they saw a vehicle with out of state plates parked at a residence, and after 30 entries (not necessarily consecutive) they attached a large orange sticker to the windshield indicating the vehicle was in violation. He said the stickers were large and "hard to remove."

"There's nothing that irks people more than to see their neighbor avoiding paying excise and insurance by registering in New Hampshire," Romero said. "We are tracking a number of cars now."

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