Drive like a local: Registrations surge

TREMONTSome seasonal residents are opting for Maine license plates during this time of COVID-19 to avoid public shaming, according to town officials.  

Lots of people are transferring their plate registrations because of dirty looks, Town Manager Chris Saunders told members of the board of selectmen during their Monday night meeting.  

“Typically, we do about two per month,” Saunders said in an email to the Islander. “I can tell you that we have done 10 out-of-state transfers since April 14… This is a significant increase.” 

Mount Desert Town Clerk Clair Woolfolk said she has been getting multiple calls every day and emails from folks looking for a new registration in Maine. 

“We’re not actually doing them because we’re not open to the public,” said Woolfolk from the town office earlier this week.  

On April 1, shortly after Governor Janet Mills issued an executive order for residents to stay safe and stay home, Maine State Police put a statement on their Facebook page addressing treatment of folks with out-of-state license plates.  

State police have received recent reports of motorists with out-of-state plates being confronted and harassed, and advise Maine residents that if they have concerns about this issue to contact local or state police. Some of these vehicles are likely to be operated by people who are working here in the state… 

There are many reasons for people to have out-of-state plates on their vehicles, such as temporary essential workers, car rentals, military personnel and traveling nurses. While we appreciate this is a time of high anxiety, confronting those with non-Maine license plates is unacceptable and residents with concerns should contact Maine law enforcement. Please exercise restraint and common sense during this time of tension. We want everyone to stay safe and stay healthy.” 

One of Maine’s primary economic drivers is tourism. The coming months are bound to be full of high emotions as people migrate here, like they would any other year, to take in a lobster roll and a view of the ocean. People who pay taxes on property and reside in the state for part of the year are looking for ways to blend into their community more during that time.  

When asked if new registrations were up in Southwest Harbor, Deputy Town Clerk Debbie Clark said she had seen an increase. Woolfolk explained transfers and new vehicle registrations all fall under new registrations.  

“We’ve seen a lot of seasonal and also a lot of people moving here,” said Clark. She, along with other town office staff, is working limited hours in the building since the office was closed to the public in March.  

“I would say since we’ve been closed, I’ve seen an increase,” she added. “I’ve had a few that have residences here and elsewhere.”  

Clark also noted seeing a vehicle with out-of-state plates parked at the drugstore in town with words painted on it telling people the owner works at the hospital. 

“I’ve had a few people comment about getting the stink eye,” said Woolfolk. She went on to say that another man told her about being hassled at the store because of his New York license plates.  

In Southwest Harbor and Tremont, municipal office functions have continued with doors closed to the public. Both towns are in the process of preparing to open their offices to the public for business, but have yet to set dates to do so.  

Using dropboxes at the municipal buildings, folks looking to register their vehicles can submit their paperwork, including the out-of-state title or lien holder information, a copy of last registration and proof of insurance.  

Once the town has this, staff can process a new Maine registration and issue new license plates. Town staff collect the out-of-state title, or proof thereof, and a Maine title application and send those to the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles where they get processed, according to Tremont Town Clerk Katie Dandurand.  

The typical timeframe for someone to receive a new Maine title is about six weeks. Because of COVID-19, all Maine BMV offices are closed to the public, but a limited number of staff are working to process paperwork. Because of this, new Maine titles may take as much as two months before they are received.  

“If they are here in person, they can come in once we open and we can do it all here,” said Woolfolk, who expects the Mount Desert town office to open at some point in June. “I expect once we get our doors open, we’re going to be super busy doing new car registrations, probably for the next two months.” 


Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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