News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, April 19, 2018
Stonington to end Deer Isle vehicle registration

by Rich Hewitt

Beginning this summer, the town will no longer process new vehicle registrations for Deer Isle residents.

Selectmen voted Monday to end the practice of registering new vehicles for residents from the neighboring town as part of a wider plan to ease the workload on town office employees. The selectmen also agreed to participate in a state program that will allow town residents to renew their vehicle registrations online. The town office will continue to process new vehicle registrations for Stonington residents.

It takes town office staff a long time to process vehicle registrations, particularly for new vehicles, which can take as long as 25 minutes to complete, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings. In addition, the town must file regular reports to the bureau on the registrations it does, which adds to the time the staff spends on vehicle registration. The $5 fee the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles pays the town to do that work doesn’t cover the cost of the clerks’ time to do the work, Billings said, and the bureau won’t adjust the fee it pays to the town.

“We’re going into a deficit on this,” she said, “and the staff is not working on stuff for our town.”

Selectmen supported the plan to discontinue the service, but not without some concern for the impact it will have on their neighbors. John Robbins, who has pressed for joint meetings between the two boards of selectmen, said he was concerned that Deer Isle would not have enough time to adapt to the change.

“We want good relations with them,” he said. “ I’d like to see the timing worked out.”

Evelyn Duncan agreed. “We can’t just say ‘you’re out the door’ tomorrow,” she said.

Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher also shared that concern.

“To do new registrations takes a significant amount of training,” he said. “This has been a great service [to our residents] and we’ve appreciated it.”

Deer Isle already handles its own re-registration of vehicles, but, Billings agreed, it does require additional training. The state offers a training class in May, she said, which would give the Deer Isle clerk time to get trained to do new registrations before Stonington ended that service. With the option of that training in May available, selectmen agreed the town would stop processing Deer Isle new registrations beginning June 1.

In a related vote, the selectmen authorized the town to join InforME Online Services, a state program that will allow town residents to renew boat registrations and to use the Rapid Renewal online vehicle registration renewal service. According to Billings, the new service uses the existing Moses online program which the town has used to renew hunting and fishing licenses for several years. Although separate programs, the boat registration and vehicle registration renewals will operate in the same way. The service will be available online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and residents can use the site to complete their renewals. In each case, customers will receive a printable temporary registration, which will be good until they receive the official registration and, in the case of vehicles, the stickers.

According to information from InforME, there is no charge to the town for the service. The state—either IFW for boats or the BMV for vehicles—will calculate the excise tax due and collect it online. Selectmen made sure before they voted that the town will still receive the excise tax, which is a regular source of municipal revenue. According to InforME, those fees are transferred regularly to the towns.

The only cost to the town will be the loss of the fees the state pays to the town for handling registrations. According to Billings, those fees total about $9,000 a year, including boats and vehicles, as well as dog registrations.

It will take some time for the town to organize and transmit registration data to the state, but Billings said she thought that could be accomplished in time to offer the new service to residents beginning June 1.

An added attraction of the InforME service is that eventually, residents will be able to use the online service to pay their property taxes and water company and sanitary district bills. It may take a little longer to get that organized and, Billings said, the town will have to wait until after the school budget vote before selectmen can set the mill rate and prepare property tax bills. But, she said, that service should also be available sometime this summer.

ICC lease
In other action, the selectmen signed a new lease for the Island Community Center. The action extends the current lease from June 30 this year to June 30, 2019. The ICC board also will need to sign the lease extension. The ICC board had requested the extension in order to have time to review the results of a building assessment which outlined more than $600,000 in needed repairs and renovations. Voters at the annual town meeting approved the request. The board and the selectmen are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 23, to discuss the building.

Cell tower
Billings reported that some concerns have been raised about the proposed construction of a cell tower in town. Apparently there is some concern that, because of the location of the cell tower, the notice to aviators will require a change in the approach pattern to the town’s airport. She stressed the importance to the town to have the cell tower constructed and urged one or two selectmen to attend the planning board hearing on Thursday during which the board will review the application for the tower construction.

The selectmen decided to keep the bleachers at the ball field. A group of parents working on the athletic field in Deer Isle had approached the town to see if they could acquire the bleachers. Selectmen balked at the request, even though the Stonington ball field is not currently being used as such. Duncan stressed that there might be a need for them in the future and Donna Brewer noted that people in town still see that as a ball field.

“People feel a strong sentiment about that being a ball field, even though it’s not used as one,” she said.

They voted 4-0 to keep the bleachers. (John Steed absent).