Islanders line up for bargain tabs

"Photo: Southend drivers line up by the dozen Monday in Freeland to purchase car license tabs for the new bargain price of $30.Matt Johnson/staff photoHow much did you save?To pass the time in a line that ran between 15 and 20 people long for eight hours Monday, South Whidbey residents waiting to renew their car licenses asked this question of almost every person who emerged from Freeland’s Island Insurance office with a new set of license tabs in their hands.More than 400 people waited for up to half an hour at a time at the licensing subagency to buy the $30 license tabs promised in November by the passage of Initiative 695.Those who answered the queries of their fellow drivers reported savings of $200 and more in most cases.Langley’s Dee Tarr said she did not even have to run the risk of being ticketed for expired tabs while waiting to buy her tabs at the bargain price. Most of the drivers in line Monday risked a $71 ticket for days, weeks, or more than a month. The tabs on both of Tarr’s vehicles expired Dec. 31.“We’ll save $300 for two cars,” Tarr said.Eva Mae Gabelein said she and her husband, Ray, waited more than a month to buy tabs for a new pickup they purchased. Standing in line Monday morning, she said was not sure how much she would save on her car excise tax bill.“It’ll be quite a bit because we bought a ’95,” Gabelein said.The new tab price drew far more than the 30 drivers the licensing office averages daily. Between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., licensing agents did not get a break from the long line.“It never did go down,” said Kim Chapman, one of the licensing subagents.But the work did go smoothly, even though the agents’ computer went down twice (for reasons unrelated to Y2K). Chapman said the hundreds who queued up outside he licensing office had few beefs with the 25 to 30-minute wait.“We were happy because people were waiting less time than they expected to.”Chapman said she expected a crowd of similar size Tuesday and heavier-than-normal traffic throughout the rest of the week. Lines at the Island County Auditor’s Office at the Island County Courthouse in Coupeville ran over 30 people long Monday.No one paid exactly $30 for their tabs this week. In addition to the tab price, the state charges a $3 fee for renewals. And, as the Freeland office is only a licensing agency, not the Auditor’s Office, there is also a $3 agent’s fee.The Washington State Patrol announced last week that it will not actively ticket for recently expired license tabs until Jan. 10, allowing drivers who waited for the lower fee to get registered without fearing the $71 ticket.Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said his deputies will allow a similar grace period."

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