New revenue commissioner off to fast start

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 29, 2007

COURTLAND—Prior to even taking office, Commissioner of Revenue-elect Amy Carr has lobbied supervisors for two changes that could save Southampton County taxpayers time and money.

Drawing on her 14 years of experience working in the commissioner’s office, Carr sought the changes to the county’s tax policy during December’s monthly Board of Supervisors’ meeting, fully two weeks before her term was to start.

She was to be sworn in to her new elected position Friday, though she technically takes over the reigns from retiring Commissioner John Robert Harrup when employees return to work Jan. 2.

Carr said Thursday that she had determined to pursue the tax changes during the race for election to the Commissioner of the Revenue post.

The first change would be to the county’s land use taxation program, the goal of which is to foster the preservation of real estate for agricultural, horticultural and open space use.

Under that program, owners of agriculturally zoned property pay smaller tax bills based on their property being certified as used for agricultural or open-space purposes.

The program currently requires owners to validate annually by October that their properties qualify for the program.

The requirement &uot;creates a flurry of activity in the Commissioner’s office each October, which is the time in which they’re collaborating with the Treasurer to generate and mail the property tax bills,&uot; County Administrator Michael Johnson wrote in an introduction of the topic to his Board of Supervisors.

Carr’s suggestion, which supervisors agreed to put out for a public hearing, was that land use program participants revalidate their properties in the program every sixth year, with application fees of $20.

She said Thursday that if supervisors agree to the change, she intends to mail out notices to those property owners as their six-year deadlines approach.

Another change in the tax code that Carr suggested and supervisors agreed to put before the public would reduce the penalty for being late in filing personal property tax returns.

Returns are due March 15 and were originally designed to give the Commissioner’s office notice of changes to a county resident’s personal property inventory. If a resident buys a car, a boat, a trailer or a recreational vehicle, for example, that purchase must be noted on the personal property tax return. Late returns are subject to a penalty of 10 percent of the tax bill or $10, whichever is greater.

Since the county began prorating personal property taxes in 2003, however, it has been more important for the Commissioner’s office to know exactly when such purchases are made, Carr said Thursday.

&uot;We need to know now what you own every day of the year,&uot; she said.

To that end, her office receives electronic notification from the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles when county residents register new cars, trucks, trailers or RVs. Similarly Southampton learns of residents’ new boats when those boats are registered with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

&uot;Now, we have ways of obtaining that information without the taxpayer&uot; getting involved, she said. The forms still will be mailed, she added, but they have been redesigned to include spaces for information on when the assets were acquired or disposed of.

Considering the changes and the diminishing importance of the forms, Carr asked supervisors to consider reducing the penalty to 1 percent of the tax bill or $10, whichever is greater.

Both changes to Southampton’s tax code will be the subjects of public hearings Jan. 28.