State wants car owners to pay a fee it failed to collect

The Department of Licensing forgot to collect $15 fees on more than 32,000 cars — 4,000 in the county.

OLYMPIA — Owners of nearly 4,000 vehicles in Snohomish County are finding out they owe the state a $15 fee that they were never asked to pay.

They’re not alone.

The state Department of Licensing failed to collect the fee on 32,749 vehicles brought to Washington from another state between December 2016 and August 2017.

Of the total, 3,823 are in Snohomish County and 561 in Island County. There are vehicles affected in each of the state’s 39 counties, ranging from 7,466 in King County to 17 in Columbia County.

The error resulted in the state losing out on $491,000. It now wants that money and has sent letters to owners of those vehicles explaining they need to pay before they will be allowed to renew their car tabs.

“We have to collect the fees. State law says we can’t not collect it,” said Krista Carlson, director of communication and education for the department.

Agency leaders did not attempt to get lawmakers or the governor to backfill the sum through the supplemental budget, she said.

What’s involved is the “stolen vehicle check fee.” It is intended to cover the agency’s cost of verifying that vehicles brought from out of state are not stolen.

State law requires it be collected before the Department of Licensing, a county auditor or a vehicle licensing agent accepts an application for a certificate of title for a vehicle previously registered in any other state or country.

Fee revenues are deposited in the motor vehicle fund, which is the state’s primary account for financing road, street and highway projects and safety programs. It is also source of funding for the Washington State Patrol and the Department of Licensing.

Carlson said the fee wasn’t collected due to an error that occurred during an upgrade of the agency’s computer system.

When the error was realized, updates were made to resolve it and prevent it from recurring, she said. It took until this month to assess what took place, identify the affected vehicles and figure out how to tell the owners, she said.

Those owners will need to pay the amount before renewing their vehicle registration. Payments can be made in-person at a vehicle licensing office or online at dol.wa.gov.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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