Changes to the state’s method of collecting car taxes could mean county residents are going to have to come up with a lot more money to register their vehicles, and county officials aren’t happy with the proposal.
Michael Hartgrove, Surry County tax department director, said last week that the changes will require taxpayers to pay their entire vehicle tax before they can register their car.
Under the current system, taxpayers can simply pay the registration fee, register their vehicle, and take up to four months before paying the vehicle tax.
The end result could be people unable to legally drive their vehicles until their taxes are paid.
And the proposed changes could mean more expenses for residents who purchase a new vehicle, Hartgrove said.
“If a person who lives in Mount Airy goes out and buys a new car today under the new plan and it costs $30,000, to register it they’re going to have to come up with approximately $400 before they can get a sticker on that car,” Hartgrove said.
Under the existing plan they simply have to pay a registration fee, and can choose to make payments on the vehicle tax for up to four months.
“Now, you register your car and the DMV sends us a file that tells us when you registered it,” Hartgrove said. “After four months, if you haven’t paid your taxes your registration is blocked and the only way to get registered after that point is to prove you’ve paid your taxes.”
This gives people that additional time to make weekly or monthly payments on their vehicle tax.
But under the proposed changes that option will disappear.
“(If the changes become reality) we will have to send your information to the DMV and you’ll have your sticker fee and your tax bill at the same time. They want to tie the vehicle inspection, taxes and registration fee into the same notice,” Hartgrove said. “It’s going to be a huge bill. Say you have a $25,000 car. You’re looking at several hundred dollars, plus the inspection and you’re going to have to come up with more than $300 within a month.”
And there will no longer be an option for the county to work with taxpayers.
“We have a tremendous amount of people (paying in installments). Under this new system you pay the whole thing right then or you don’t get your sticker. There are no options,” Hartgrove said, noting that in economically depressed Surry County, “that could be a huge problem.”
To illustrate his point, the tax director recalled a conversation he had with a taxpayer recently.
“A man called me who is out of work and actively looking for a job,” he said. “He told me that if this happens and he can’t make the entire payment at once he’s going to have to be driving around illegally looking for work.”
Burden On County As Well
And the headaches aren’t confined to just taxpayers, the proposed changes have local tax officials scratching their heads as well.
According to the proposed plan, it could be weeks — even months — before the county sees any of someone’s tax dollars, money that is sorely needed in the county’s coffers.
“Right now, if you pay your tax bill we’ll process the check and have the money immediately,” Hartgrove said. “Under the new plan if you get your bill on July 1, and pay it on July 5, the county might get the money by Aug. 15.”
Between the time the taxes are paid and the money arrives in the county, Hartgrove said it will be moved through multiple state departments in what he described as “a big circle.”
“It’s stupid,” he said emphatically. “They’ve taken the money and any discretion out of our hands and they’ll send it around the state for a while and eventually the money will come back to the county at some point.
“If we have to assess the tax, we should be able to collect the tax and work with our taxpayers.”
Unless something changes, the new plan will take effect on July 1, 2013.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.