City could be next to nix car decals

Published 11:31 am Saturday, September 26, 2009

FRANKLIN — Weeks after Southampton County voted to eliminate vehicle decals, Franklin officials are considering following suit. The City Council has tentatively scheduled a work session on the elimination of city decals for Oct. 26.

“We have been looking into it for several years,” said Brenda Rickman, the city’s commissioner of revenue.

Franklin resident Greg McLemore presented the council with a petition during last week’s council meeting asking that it vote to eliminate city decals right away.

“Our people already pay the highest tipping fees in America,” he said, referring to the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s garbage fee. “So I think that we should show them some appreciation by at least alleviating this unnecessary sticker.”

Franklin residents are required to display a city decal on any vehicle housed in the city by Feb. 15 every year. Decals can only be purchased after personal property taxes have been paid.

However, Rickman said that the elimination of vehicle decals won’t likely mean a reduction in costs for residents and it won’t happen overnight. The city will likely raise vehicle tax rates or add a vehicle license fee to recover the revenue that will be lost if decals are axed.

“The decals bring in $150,000 in revenue,” she said. “You’ve got to look into everything that it entails.”

Councilwoman Mary Hilliard said that she has heard from citizens in her ward who would like to see the decals eliminated, but she isn’t ready to call for their elimination just yet.

“We’re going to wait for staff’s recommendation to see when we might (be able) to implement it,” she said.

Councilwoman Rosa Lawrence said that she is working to gather information so that she can hold a ward meeting to inform her constituents about the elimination of decals, especially the fact that they will still be required to pay a fee.

“That’s what I’m really trying to stress,” she said. She said that the issue needs to be studied to ensure that the city doesn’t lose money. “We don’t want the personal property tax to increase because of this.”

Councilman Barry Cheatham said that he has spoken with officials in jurisdictions that have eliminated decals and it didn’t have any impact on their budgets because they created licensing fees.

“In talking with other cities, I have seen nothing to say that having the stickers serves any benefit,” he wrote.

Rickman added that the elimination of decals in surrounding localities has made enforcing their usage more difficult. Because so many surrounding cities and counties don’t use decals, law enforcement officials don’t stop vehicles for not displaying decals and tickets are usually given after another traffic offense has been committed.

Cheatham said that he wants to hear from city employees and residents, but added “I think the pros may have the cons edged out. It must be emphasized that the cost is still there to the citizen, just not the aggravation of getting and putting the sticker on the windshield.”

“There are a lot of things you have to consider,” Rickman said. “We’re trying to present some options to council.”

A number of cities and counties across the state have already eliminated vehicle decals. Locally, the cities of Emporia and Suffolk as well as the counties of Isle of Wight, Greensville and, most recently, Southampton have all eliminated vehicle decals.