ITD News
Associated Press
News Link

Montana offers deal of a lifetime

Owners may license recreational 'toys' for life

By Sonja Lee
Great Falls Tribune

Montana is offering a one-year-only, once in a lifetime deal to people who license a recreational vehicle in 2004.

New laws, approved by the 2003 Legislature, mean that the owners of trailers, boats, snowmobiles, motorcycles and off-road vehicles must register their toys for a lifetime rather than annually.

Registration costs, in some cases, also significantly dropped -- but only for 2004. Those who wait a year to register or buy a recreational vehicle will pay a lot more in 2005.

"Most all of the fees will double next year," said Cascade County Treasurer Jess Anderson.

Motorcycle owners who pick up a permanent license in 2004 will be particularly pleased, he said.

Last year registering a 2001 Harley, for example, cost $105. This year registering the same bike permanently costs an estimated $36.75.

"If they are going to register any of their 'toys,' this year would be the year," Anderson said.

Jan Marie Osterhoudt registered two motorcycles last week and was pleasantly surprised by her bill for the permanent registration.

"I thought we were going to be talking about a couple hundred dollars to register, and it cost me $36.75," she said. "I walked out of there a happy camper."

Osterhoudt said one man who registered his bike actually went back to the motor vehicle office because he was sure that the low price had to be a mistake.

Bob Burnside, supervisor of Cascade County's Motor Vehicle Department, said the permanent registration appears to be popular.

Lines in the office also are still moving quickly, he said. The changes don't seem to be slowing down too many vehicle owners.

Some registration fees, like those on boats and trailers, have increased. And the new laws are aimed at bringing in more money for the state.

Fees for new license plates increased, and manufacturing fees for collegiate license plates doubled.

A number of motorcycle and snowmobile owners also regularly trade off their toys for new and improved, so the new registration rules could cost them more in the future. When a vehicle is sold, the new owner has to license it, and the fees will be higher than in 2004.

Rep. Jeff Pattison, R-Glasgow, sponsored House Bill 444, better known as the "Toy Bill."

Pattison said research shows that most snowmobile and motorcycle owners sell or trade in their vehicles every three years. The legislation will generate more money for the state, he said.

But registering for a lifetime also is convenient, he said.

Steve Kaste, the owner of Steve's Sports Center in Great Falls, said the state must be counting on people selling their toys and having to relicense them at the higher costs.

Gil Melton said he will license his Harleys next month. He said he has a lot of questions about the permanent registration.

"That's the big snag I see," he said. "The prices sound good now, but I'm afraid I'm still just a little bit leery."

Cascade County also is a little leery of the changes. In Montana, it is possible a lot of people won't sell or trade their recreational vehicles, Anderson said, which could be a problem.

"It potentially could be a big loss in revenue," Anderson said.

Cascade County Commissioner Lance Olson said the county will keep a close eye on the impacts of the new rules. He said there are a lot of unknowns about what the changes might mean for the budget.

Those who register a car, truck or SUV also are paying some new fees.

Registration fees now include a 50-cent veteran affairs fee and a $4 state parks fee.

The state accidentally left the two new fees off vehicle registration cards mailed out for January, but Montana is still requesting the additional money.

The state set the voluntary $4 surcharge on vehicle licenses, with the money going directly to support state parks. If residents don't want to pay the fee, they have to make a written request to "opt out" of the $4 charge.

Anderson said at this time it isn't known how many people are opting out of the park's fee.

Another change is that Montanans only receive one license plate tab when they register a vehicle. The state expects the change will save $800,000 in the next two years.

With all the changes, there has been some confusion, Anderson said. But signs are posted reminding people that the one tab must be attached to the rear plate of a vehicle.