Abandoned vehicles costing taxpayers

  • Coco Zickos/The Garden Island

    One of a number of abandoned vehicles dumped outside of Puhi Metals on a regular basis. The county council is working on two bills that could help mitigate this issue.

LIHUE —Broken down, picked apart vehicles left on the side of the road and other inconspicuous places around the island are an epidemic. Trouble is, it’s hard to track down the owners of abandoned or derelict vehicles because, more often than not, the drivers of the cars never transferred ownership.

“All of us have been inundated with calls from people about the status of these vehicles,” said Councilmember Mason Chock during last week’s council meeting.

KPD currently has more than 260 pending complaints about abandoned or derelict vehicles around the island. According to their stats, the department handled the removal of 404 abandoned and derelict vehicles during the fiscal year of 2017 and 498 for the fiscal year of 2018. During the fiscal year of 2019, they handled 653.

“This is an ongoing issue that continues to worsen,” said Assistant Chief Mark Begley. “Loopholes in our laws/statutes give opportunity for some people to abandon their vehicles without sufficient accountability.

“For every vehicle we tow away, another one appears.”

And it’s a burden that taxpayers must bear. Kauai County spent more than $411,000 handling abandoned and derelict vehicles in 2017 and around $423,00 in 2018. So far this year, the county has already spent some $491,000.

Thus, the reason that councilmembers Chock and Luke Evslin introduced two bills pertaining to “highway safety” for potential inclusion in the 2020 Hawaii State Association of Counties (HSAC) Legislative Package and the 2020 County of Kauai Legislative Package. These packages are two avenues in which the County Council can propose bills for an act at the Legislature.

The first would place the responsibility of the transfer of vehicle ownership on the seller rather than the buyer.

So that we can easily track who the current owner is, Chock said.

“We believe that placing more responsibility on the seller will encourage the seller to meet the buyer at the Motor Vehicle Registration office to transfer their vehicle title in person,” Begley said. “This would ensure that the vehicle is immediately and properly registered under the new owner’s name. It would greatly discourage and prevent fraud in the transfer process. It would protect the buyers from unpaid taxes/fines on the vehicle. And it would increase owner responsibility for abiding by the various laws and ordinances relating to vehicle ownership.”

This is a system that already works well in other states, including Pennsylvania, according to KPD. Other states, such as Arizona and New York have laws in place that require sellers to remove and surrender their license plates from the vehicle when they sell it, which requires the buyer to “quickly” register the vehicle in their name.

Under the current system of transferring vehicle titles, Evslin said, “There’s not much accountability for the person who owns the vehicle because it’s not under their name and maybe not even the last person.”

County Finance Director Reiko Matsuyama concurred that “people are abusing the system” and doing transactions “fraudulently.”

The other “highway safety” bill that is still up for discussion, also introduced by Chock and Evslin, pertains to adjusting the “beautification” fee that goes toward costs that include the removal of abandoned and derelict vehicles. Currently, the state authorizes the counties to charge residents up to $10 per year, a fee that’s incorporated into their annual vehicle registration dues. Rental car companies, however, can only be charged $1 per year per vehicle. This bill would remove that cap so that the fees would be equal.

“So we can properly take care of abandoned vehicles,” Chock said.

Councilmembers said they’ve seen their fair share of abandoned rental cars. One hot spot, in particular, that was pointed out during last week’s council meeting is near the “Blue Hole” hike, said Councilmember Felicia Cowden.

Councilmembers were largely in agreement with the second “beautification” bill but there was some hesitation regarding the first, which will be discussed in more detail on Wednesday.

“We just want to make sure we focus on the ones that have a good chance,” said Councilmember Ross Kagawa regarding the bills. “We want to make sure we have items in the package that will benefit the whole state.”

The two bills will be up for further discussion at the Housing and Intergovernmental Relations Committee of the county council meeting at 8:30 a.m. today at Council Chambers at the Historic County Building. If both bills are accepted, it’s the first step in a long process, as they will both have to undergo an extensive approval process, including committees from all Islands, before making their way to the state legislature.

Visit kauai.gov/council/committeemeetings for more information.

  1. Dude September 4, 2019 6:30 am Reply

    If you don’t transfer ownership then you are responsible. Simple

  2. Bob B September 4, 2019 7:22 am Reply

    From the article and a little math it looks like we are paying between $850 and $900 per car to tow them ? Perhaps the council should be looking at that .

  3. tunataxi September 4, 2019 7:52 am Reply

    $1000 per vehicle for removal is ridiculous the county needs a truck and lot to take care of this problem cheaply and promptly

  4. CommonSenseish September 4, 2019 7:56 am Reply

    Seriously? Nail the last registered owner, it was their responsibility to get it out of their name. If it was a legal sale, they would have that slip of paper showing the person who bought it. If NOT, they were obviously not responsible in the first place and should take the blame. Why do US taxpayers keep getting the bucket while some people keep getting raises. Raises should be pended, and a 10% pay decrease for these politicians until they start earning their money. How’s Kawakami working out for everyone? So far, all I know about him is he feels like being the poster boy of the DMV MVR Update has earned him some kind of bragging rights… my question, about what though?

  5. Tom P. September 4, 2019 8:00 am Reply

    A good story would have explained why it costs on average $923 to remove an abandoned car. To me this seems excessive.

  6. John Schmidt September 4, 2019 9:33 am Reply

    What’s the problem? I recently sold a car and took the slip on the title into the county with the transfer information. If I hadn’t done that (and if the buyer hadn’t gotten a new title), then I should still be the owner in the eyes of the law. That abandoned car would be my responsibility.

  7. Sam Tabalno September 4, 2019 10:32 am Reply

    Punish the needy and helpless while the Salvage company and County rake in the monies!
    County officials (council members) recent grumbling about abandon vehicles caught my attention. In short they made two interesting suggestions about the situation, one good and one not so good.
    First, seller and buyer both meet at DMV and finalize the vehicle transaction. Good idea, buyer is satisfied the vehicle is legit and seller is cool the title ownership is legally transferred.
    However, the second alternative to research the vehicle identity and punish the last known owner, not so good. This sounds good in theory but we all know that processing cost the taxpayers bokoo monies and usually the last owner no have money to pay fines (maybe as why they sold car in first place!)
    I suggest the county implement a incentive program instead where the vehicle owner and salvage company make money and county save taxpayers money!
    IMO Simple idea and solution really, salvage companies make money from scrap metal. Tow companies make money by towing vehicles.
    Let’s say as an ”example” a car is worth $400 in scrape. ( I know as an example, maybe more or less)
    An owner can take the car to salvage yard and gets $2-300 cash. Or a tow company can offer his service to a vehicle owner to clear a junk car in yard. The owner can say, ”yeah, tow truck driver, here is my vehicle documents, please clear this junk from my yard, take it for FREE!” Driver can give some money ($100 if have to to owner) for the junk vehicle and still make money ($200) when driver tows vehicle to salvage yard!
    There’s a win-win situation!

  8. dt September 4, 2019 2:08 pm Reply

    Please extend the bill so that abandoned vehicles on private property can use the same advantages. The current law is only in effect for public property. For abandoned vehicles on private property, the property owner is on the hook. This just means people can park the car in front of your house and leave it there. The tow company would only tow vehicles of value in hopes of recouping the cost via impound fees. If the car is a junk car, the tow company will require the private property owner to foot the bill.

    These cars can add up, and can even block emergency vehicle access.

  9. Kauaidoug September 4, 2019 3:21 pm Reply

    Put that “beautification” job to bid. That would reduce it considerably.

  10. Huh? September 4, 2019 3:41 pm Reply

    Protect the ‘aina
    >abandon your car.

    Way to go, Kauai

  11. Rev Dr. Malama September 4, 2019 6:31 pm Reply

    No matter how flat the tire, still get 2 sides…..
    I vehemently disagree with the futility of creating bills to nowhere when our roads, houseless and infrastructure issues are at CRISIS LEVELS!!!
    The laws in place do address who, what, when and where of responsibility for personal property i.e. cars, trucks etc…
    The real perpetrators, imho, are the Contractors and Tow truck operators who are in collusion with the kpd to fleese kala from our pockets. . The Kauai County Council is only a small branch of the law enforcement in an illegal occupation of the Hawai’ian Kingdom. Stop acting like writing a bill is going to change a hundred years of pirating innocent people!!!

  12. Rick bundschuh September 5, 2019 3:30 am Reply

    Meet the buyer of your vehicle at the DMV? Boy, I hope you have plenty of time on your hands and they open a lot more windows.
    Perhaps the state should use some easy technology to insure that the buyer of a used vehicle is registered with the DMV, for example an online option such as a form that includes a phone photo of the buyers drivers license so that the individual is still on the hook if the car is not registered after the sale. In other words enforce punishment/expenses for abandoned cars on those who abandon them not the general population by adding taxes or more hassle.

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