Towed for taxes

Published 10:19 am Saturday, June 4, 2011

Willie and Jacquelyn Emory stand in front of their 2006 Ford Focus, which was towed Wednesday for non-payment of taxes to the City of Franklin. -- Gwen Albers | TIDEWATER NEWS

FRANKLIN—Willie Emory went to Walmart on Wednesday for a half-gallon of ice cream to go with his wife’s homemade peach cobbler.

The ice cream melted after Emory found a boot on his 2006 Ford Focus for overdue taxes to the City of Franklin. The $99 he owed in personal property taxes from 2008 cost him an additional $230 for towing and having the boot removed.

Following in the footsteps of Isle of Wight County, Franklin and Southampton County treasurers’ offices recently began using Virginia Auction and Collections Co. to locate and seize vehicles belonging to delinquent taxpayers.

As of Thursday, 77 vehicles had been booted this week in Southampton County, where $1.7 million is owed in back taxes, said Treasurer David Britt. The owners of all but five of the booted vehicles had paid their delinquent property and personal taxes as of Friday. One owed more than $1,700.

“We’re getting a lot of people coming in. Some are irritated,” Britt said. “I think it’s a culture shock to them because they were never pushed to pay their taxes.”

Capron Realtor Windell Francis supports the county’s efforts.

“We pay our taxes, and others need to pay theirs – or try to make an effort to do it,” Francis said.

The treasurers send their delinquent lists to Virginia Auction. Using license-plate readers equipped with the treasurers’ information, Virginia Auction employees scan cars in parking lots, driveways and streets.

Once the reader locates a license plate matching a delinquent account, the agent verifies the vehicle’s identification and boots the car.

The agent also places a warrant explaining the seizure on the vehicle. A note is left for the owner to call the treasurer’s office to settle the tax account.

If payment is made before the close of business that day, the vehicle will not be towed; the only cost is $30 to have the boot removed and a 20 percent collection fee.

If the treasurer’s office is closed, the vehicle will be towed.

That’s what happened to Black Creek Road resident Liz Mullins, who owed $10 in personal property taxes for two vehicles, a boat and two motorcycles. Mullins claims she never received a reminder notice, but Britt says it was mailed.

The boot was placed on her car when it was parked outside Pleasure Island hair salon on Armory Drive, where Mullins works.

“One of my customers comes in and says, ‘There’s a boot on your car with giant orange stickers.’ ”

Since it was too late in the day to call the Southampton County Treasurer’s Office, her 1995 Nissan Altima was towed. Mullins’ husband, Wayne, paid the $10 and $2.60 late fee the next day, and then the couple had to pay a $200 towing fee and $30 to remove the boot.

“It just boggles me,” Liz Mullins said. “They towed my car 500 feet to a lot behind Mike Duman (Chevrolet). I need someone to justify to me how $12.60 cost me $230 to get my car back. I’m not denying that I owed (taxes), but I cannot justify it.”

The City of Franklin has booted five cars since Tuesday, said Treasurer Dinah Babb. Four paid their taxes, and the fifth had a payment plan already in place.

The treasurer’s office has been busy this week as word spreads about vehicles being booted.

“Southampton started a week before us,” Babb said. “We saw a number of people paying and making payment plans.”

The city is owed $843,800 in past-due real estate and personal property taxes.