Still searching for that special way to ring in the new year?

Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) has an idea for you.

In nine days, one serious fan of the millennium, or maybe just a collector, will be the proud owner of the only set of "Marking the Millennium" license plates imprinted with the number 2000 issued by the state of Maryland. Hoping to cash in on Y2K mania, Schaefer and his cohorts with the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000 started an online auction of the plates yesterday on eBay, an Internet auction service.

The opening bid for the tags was $500, but Schaefer, the commission chairman, said he wants them to fetch much more by the end of the auction, on Sept. 6. "We expect to get about $15,000 for this," he said yesterday after showing off the tags at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. "We hope to. Maybe I'm dreaming, but we'll see."

For those who want a piece of the Maryland millennium celebration but don't want to be paying it off for the next century, the commission is offering $50 commemorative license plates. With the words "Marking the Millennium" and the Maryland 2000 logo crowned by a burst of fireworks, the tags are exactly like the one being auctioned, except for the number 2000. The price does not include regular biannual registration fees.

The new tags will join the hundreds of other special-issue plates in Maryland, which honor such things as the Chesapeake Bay and universities. Like the "Treasure the Chesapeake" tag, the millennium tag will raise money for a nonprofit organization, this time the millennium commission, which operates various arts, education and historic preservation projects.

Part of yesterday's festivities included a display of three futuristic cars, one a Dodge Intrepid transformed into an ethanol- and electric-powered vehicle by University of Maryland engineering professor David Holloway and his students. Schaefer kicked off the event at the fairgrounds by riding up in a sport utility concept car built by Oldsmobile.

Some passersby were too interested in the car's gadgetry to notice the millennium license plate fastened to it. Others just weren't very excited about a Y2K tag.

"I personally wouldn't buy one," said John Cooper, a Los Angeles resident on vacation in Baltimore. "It doesn't do anything for me. I'm sure the young people will go for it, though."

Helen L. Davis, of Baltimore, said she bought a Chesapeake Bay license plate because she's proud of her Maryland heritage and wanted to help protect the bay, but the millennium, she said, "doesn't faze me much. It's just another year."

Most of the cars and trucks in the fairgrounds parking lot were marked with plain, ordinary black-and-white license plates made up of uninteresting sets of numbers and letters. But there was at least one car owner who might soon spice up her tag.

Sharee Stringer, of Odenton, is excited about the new year. Maybe the computer horror stories will come true and she'll wake up to find her house paid for, she jokes. Or maybe she'll just get a new license plate.

"It could just be a keepsake, you know, going into the new century," she said, adding that she'll probably order one of the $50 tags. "Time for a new car anyway," she said.

Bids for the plates with

the number 2000 can

be made at the Maryland millennium license plate site at www.ebay.com.

The $50 millennium

plates can be ordered

through the commission

at 1-410-260-6352 or

its Web site www.maryland2000.org.

CAPTION: Comptroller William Donald Schaefer wants the Maryland 2000 limited edition license plates to fetch $15,000 on eBay. The tags will be the only pair of Maryland millennium plates to sport the year 2000.