Justifiable extremes

Published 9:23 am Friday, June 10, 2011

Like the overwhelming majority of property owners who pay their taxes on time, we have little sympathy for deadbeats.

Uncollected tax dollars mean either reduced services or additional taxes for the hard-working, honest taxpayers who manage to pay their tax bills on time.

For that reason, we’re glad to see Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County cracking down on delinquent taxes. One could argue that a get-tough approach a few years ago would have prevented the massive delinquencies now on the localities’ books.

As it is, the three localities have joined others in the state and region in utilizing a collection technique that is ruffling feathers and sparking questions of fairness. Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight have hired Virginia Auction and Collections Co. to cruise streets and parking lots in search of license plates belonging to delinquent taxpayers. The company slaps a boot on a vehicle’s tire, forcing the owner to settle up with the city or county treasurer before the boot can be removed. If the owner does not pay quickly, the vehicle is towed.

We believe it to be a proper and effective means of forcing people to pay their taxes. Treasurers in all three localities need to keep a close eye on the vendor to ensure that fees are reasonable and within the guidelines of state law, which limits collection fees to 20 percent of the delinquent balance. The focus needs to be on collecting delinquent taxes, not padding the profits of Virginia Auction and Collections, whose owner filed for bankruptcy protection and which lost a lawsuit in Isle of Wight last year for alleged overbilling, The News-Virginian of Waynesboro reported.

Taxpayers also should be given until the close of the following business day to pay their taxes before a vehicle is towed. People whose vehicles have been booted on holidays and late in the day on weekdays have a legitimate beef about the fairness of being towed without at least the opportunity to visit the treasurer’s office and settle up.

Delinquent taxpayers shouldn’t take any chances, however. Paying now is a lot cheaper than getting the boot.