Whatcom auditor to collect new vehicle fees

Vehicle owners who avoid the higher fees on registrations and title transfers by going through the county auditor’s office will lose that price advantage starting Jan. 1.

Under a new state law, county auditor’s offices next year will charge a $5 fee for vehicle registrations and renewals, and $12 for title transfers (the transaction required when a vehicle changes hands). The fees also will apply to online transactions.

The same fees already are charged by private “subagents” that renew registrations and process titles under a contract with the county auditor.

While subagents get to keep the add-on fees, the county will turn in those surcharges to the state, to help pay for construction of a third ferry. The fees come from a bill passed this year by the Legislature and sponsored by Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon.

Morris, who represents south Bellingham and parts of south Whatcom County, could not be reached for comment on Monday, Dec. 29. But in a message to constituents on Feb. 4, Morris said the new ferry boat was “much needed ... to modernize (the state’s) aging fleet.”

“Construction of the third boat would take advantage of the worker skills, expertise and efficiency developed by (contractor) Vigor (Industrial), reducing the vessel’s cost,” Morris wrote. All three new ferries are 144-vehicle Olympic class vessels. One went into service in June, and the other two are still under construction. The three are replacing ferries from the 1950s.

Whatcom County Auditor Debbie Adelstein distanced herself from the new fees in a statement on Dec. 19.

“(The legislation) was to make the fees charged at the subagents and the Auditor’s Office the same. These fees were not requested by the auditors,” the statement said.

For more information, call Adelstein at 360-715-7474.