SALISBURY — If you live in Salisbury but your car is registered out of state, a $500 civil citation could be coming your way soon, after a recent police investigation to root out registration and excise tax scofflaws.

The problem isn’t new to town, especially at the beach. For years selectmen have urged local police to crack down on residents and businesses whose vehicles are registered in other states but are parked habitually in town. According to Town Manager Neil Harrington, it was a member of the town’s fiscal watchdog group, the Warrant Advisory Committee, who instigated the most recent investigation, suggesting police Chief Tom Fowler spend some of his department’s resources tracking the license plates of cars consistently domiciled in town overnight.

Fowler said according to state law, a vehicle garaged overnight for 30 consecutive nights must be registered in Massachusetts. It doesn’t matter if the vehicle owner has property in another state, he said. If the car basically lives in Salisbury, it’s supposed to be registered in-state. The only exemptions are students or active military.

The benefit isn’t only money for the state Registry of Motor Vehicles. Communities in which vehicles are garaged get excise tax from their owners. Excise tax is an important contributor to the annual budgets for all cities and town, and the reason the Warrant Advisory Committee was concerned.

“We get about $1 million a year in excise tax,” Harrington said. “This is an important issue.”

Salisbury Sgt. Timothy Hunter mounted the investigation, which began in January and was carried out by officers on the night shift. According to Hunter, a total of 198 out-of-state cars were found throughout town, tracked and determined to be in violation of the state’s registration laws. Most have New Hampshire plates, Hunter said, and three-quarters are located at the beach.

Hunter believes the high number of out-of-state vehicles found at the beach is due to non-Massachusetts residents moving into the abundance of off-season, winter rentals there.

In June, officers placed letters on vehicles, notifying their owners of the laws and the penalties involved if they remain in non-compliance. As of Friday, Hunter said, the number of vehicles being tracked had dropped to 71.

“All other vehicles have either moved away, been taken off the road or have registered in Massachusetts,” Hunter said. “Forty of (the 71) are at the beach.”

Although a few owners tried to hide their cars, taking them off the streets and into garages, Hunter said, notices were mailed to the addresses listed on the vehicle registration.

Salisbury’s protocol is to issue civil citations for $500 to those who continue to remain outside the law on vehicle registration for violating MGL Chapter 90, section 3.5, related to improper vehicle registration to avoid taxes and premiums. Those in non-compliance as of July 1 will be mailed the citations, Hunter said.

Selectmen see in-state car registration as an important issue, especially for local businesses. Money from excise taxes goes to support town roads and police and fire services that residents and businesses use every day, Selectmen Don Beaulieu and Fred Knowles said.

Beaulieu once told the owner of Seacoast Lock and Safe that if the company’s vehicles remain on its Lafayette Road property overnight, he needed to register them in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire. Selectmen even made it a condition for the company’s business license.

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