Taxing: County cars cost more
When Marlene Condon got the Albemarle County personal property tax bill for her 1997 Toyota, she noticed that the amount due June 5 seemed to have gone up, despite her car's depreciation. Condon dug out last year's bill, and it confirmed that the county wanted more money for her aging Corolla.
Last year, the Board of Supervisors voted to increase the vehicle license tax– what used to be the $25 decal fee– by $13.50 for cars and $10 for trailers, boosting the fee to $38.50. It also changed the way cars are assessed, from the National Automobile Dealers Association loan value the county used last year to the N.A.D.A. trade-in value.
Condon calls the change "sneaky" and believes there should have been more publicity about the increase.
She found a notice with her tax bill that explained the $13.50 hike and the change to using N.A.D.A.'s January trade-in value for the assessment. "However, this statement in no way indicates an increase in vehicle assessment value," she says. "Thus it still seems like a surreptitious way to bring in more money without necessarily having the public know about the increase."
Trade-in value is approximately 10 percent more than loan, says Director of Finance Richard Wiggans. He cites as an example a car with a loan value of $2,000 might have a trade-in value of $2,200. The difference in assessment methods is expected to add an extra $1.7 million to county coffers, and the $13.50 license increase will bring in $1.4 million.
During budget talks in February and March 2007, the Board of Supervisors held "very open discussions" as it decided to increase the cost of owning a car in Albemarle County, and those discussions were reported, says county spokeswoman Lee Catlin. "This decision was made in full public view," she says.
However, "We did not think that was adequate, and in the first cycle billing, we sent a notice to clarify," she continues.
That explanation is in the the first bullet on the notice. "We acknowledge there could have been clearer language on trade-in and loan value," she concedes. "Lesson learned. The language could have been more specific, but with the notice going out with a phone number, we made a good-faith effort to get the word out. How closely people pay attention, we can't control."
"I was shocked when I got mine," says BOS Chairman Ken Boyd. "I was quite surprised at how much it went up."
Boyd explains one other factor in the tax-sticker shock: "When [Governor Jim] Gilmore rode into office on doing away with the car tax, the state was going to reimburse counties 70 percent. This year, the General Assembly put a cap on it." That increased the amount the taxpayer owes, and– coupled with Albemarle's increase– it creates a "double whammy" for citizens with vehicles, Boyd says.
The higher personal property tax bill "wasn't intended to be a sneaky increase," he says. But compared to last year's higher-profile real estate debate on the 68-cents per $100 rate, it's just a fact that the personal property tax and vehicle license tax, "unfortunately," are "lesser watched taxes," says Boyd.