The board of supervisors approved adjustments to the Code of Essex County three weeks ago that affected what county residents will pay in vehicle-related taxes.
On July 9, supervisors voted unanimously to amend Article II of the code to reduce the annual motor vehicle license tax from $25 for automobile and small trucks and $15 for motorcycles to $0 for all vehicles.
As to why he recommended eliminating the vehicle license tax, Commissioner of Revenue Thomas Blackwell said it was a remnant of the decal fee that was charged to ensure that citizens paid their personal property tax.
“If they didn’t pay their personal property, they were not allowed to get a decal,” said Blackwell. “Well, we’ve moved into the 21st century, and we have a more effective means of doing that in Essex County called vehicle stop.”
Blackwell noted that vehicle stop is the means of the county treasurer, through an arrangement with the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, putting a “stop” on individuals renewing their driver’s license or vehicle registration until they had paid their taxes.
To offset the loss of revenue that the county would incur from the elimination of the vehicle license tax, Blackwell will begin assessing vehicles at the National Automobile Dealers Association’s clean trade value instead of its loan value.
According to Blackwell, the change in assessment represents between a 10.5 and 11 percent increase in each vehicle’s value.
“If the difference between clean loan and clean trade is [approximately] 10 percent, a $10,000 vehicle might this year be valued at $11,000,” said Blackwell. “But when you compute the personal property tax relief that the taxpayer would get…they’re going to pay about the same, because they’re not going to pay the $25 vehicle license tax to the county.”
In providing an example, Blackwell said that, at $350 a year with a personal property tax relief of 50 percent, the owner of a vehicle with a clean loan value of $10,000 would pay $175 on his or her automobile.
If, however, the vehicle license tax was still $25, then that owner would pay $200 total.
“With the vehicle value going up from $10,000 to $11,000…it will offset that $25,” said Blackwell.
He added that the Town of Tappahannock is no longer charging a vehicle license tax of $20 to its residents.
The board also unanimously approved an amendment to Article XIII of the Code of Essex County to allocate personal property tax relief among all qualifying vehicles without disregarding automobiles with an assessed value of less than $1,000.
Blackwell said the State of Virginia provides Essex County with $1,054,000 each year to distribute as personal property tax relief.
He added that the county has previously provided 100 percent tax relief to individuals who own vehicles worth $1,000 or less.
Blackwell proposed eliminating the $1,000 limit to ensure those individuals were still paying “their fair share” due to the fresh elimination of the vehicle license tax.
“In the past, if you had a $1,000 vehicle in the county, you did not pay any tax, but you paid a $25 vehicle license tax,” said Blackwell. “We eliminated the vehicle license tax, so if we didn’t have this ordinance passed, then people with $1,000 vehicles wouldn’t pay anything.”
Blackwell added his viewpoint that it seemed fair that county taxpayers should pay based on the value of their vehicles.
“Everybody will pay something,” said Blackwell, who added that he would be able to surmise whether the changes would be revenue-neutral by October.
“I’ll try to get back to you by November, let’s say give you at least a preliminary idea,” Blackwell told the board, adding that he would know for sure whether or not the changes were sufficient by Jan. 2014.
In other news, the board approved an amendment to Chapter 8 of the code that changed the location of the Central Absentee Voter Precinct to correspond with the relocation of the Registrar’s Office to 205 Cross St. in Tappahannock on Aug. 15.
The board of supervisors’ next public meeting will take place in the county and school board meeting room on Tuesday, Aug. 6 at 10 a.m.