County may ax car decals

Published 9:00 am Saturday, August 15, 2009

COURTLAND—Southampton County vehicle decals could become a thing of the past if a proposal to eliminate them — but not the personal property tax for vehicles — is adopted by the Board of Supervisors.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Aug. 24. The county board meeting begins at 8:30 a.m.

“It is a subject that our taxpayers have brought to us,” County Treasurer David Britt said.

Britt told the supervisors at their July 27 meeting that issuing vehicle decals is a cumbersome process and is an unnecessary intrusion into people’s lives.

But the treasurer said the biggest issue is that voluntary compliance.

“As of right now, not everyone is purchasing county decals or purchasing decals for all of their vehicles,” Britt said, informing the supervisors that 9,324 decals, slightly more than 32 percent, went unpurchased.

“The way that we have proposed this, every vehicle would be imposed and assessed a license tax,” Britt said. “The tax would then be enforced by the treasurer’s office, rather than the sheriff’s office. We would collect the tax just like we do personal property and real estate taxes.”

Britt said his office had several tools available to help enforce collection of the tax, including freezing transactions with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, imposing tax liens and distress warrants and intercepting state tax refunds and lottery winnings.

“This all can be done without us even having to leave our desks and having to wait on customers,” Britt said, adding that getting rid of the county decals could also eliminate “these long lines that we have seen in the past.”

Although the proposal would not affect the six towns in Southampton County — Boykins, Branchville, Capron, Courtland, Ivor and Newsoms — several other municipalities across the state have also eliminated vehicle decals, among them Greensville and Isle of Wight counties and the cities of Emporia and Suffolk.

Britt said the proposal would also make his office more efficient.

“This tax would be placed on your personal property tax bill and paid at the time of personal property taxes,” Britt said. “It would eliminate another mailing that we have to do once a year, subsequently reducing our costs and adding about $10,000 in savings.” He added that there would be savings from mailing out the decal forms and then mailing out the decals themselves.

Brenda Rickman, the commissioner of revenue for the City of Franklin, said there were no plans to eliminate vehicle decals in the city.

“We’ve talked about it on several occasions,” Rickman said. “But it’s an incentive to get people to pay their personal property taxes. There wouldn’t be much of a cost savings because it would be harder to collect the taxes.”

She added the decals, which are based on the gross weight of the vehicle, “are a good collection tool. It lets everybody know that you’ve paid your taxes. I don’t foresee us getting rid of them.”