Archived Story

Booting program halted — for now

Published 10:28pm Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Suffolk city attorney said Wednesday her office is working with the treasurer’s office to resolve an issue regarding the collection of personal property taxes.

The booting and towing of vehicles whose owners are delinquent on their taxes, which had been going on for a couple of months, has temporarily ceased while city officials work out the legalities of the controversial collection method.

Treasurer Ron Williams said Wednesday that his office hired Clarence Brooks to help with collections. Brooks, in turn, hired Suffolk-based Virginia Auction Company, which drives around looking for license plates listed on a delinquent list.

When one is found, a “boot” that immobilizes the vehicle is placed on one of the tires, and a notice is left for the owner to pay up.

Williams said the program brought in about $129,000 in the short time it was ongoing.

But when the city got wind of the situation, the program was ceased. City Attorney Helivi Holland said during Wednesday’s City Council meeting that her staff could not find any evidence that council had authorized it.

Williams said he has been trying to get approval for the program for about five years. Other localities surrounding the city already collect delinquent taxes in this way, Williams said.

“We’re almost a hole in a doughnut,” he said. “All around us is using these collection actions.”

Williams said those who are communicating with his office to work out a payment plan and trying to follow up on those plans will not get placed on the list to be booted. The process is a last resort to collect taxes from folks who are uncooperative, he said.

Kevin Appel, legal counsel to the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia, spoke on the topic at Wednesday’s meeting.

“I wrote the law” to give localities the authority to hire a private collector, he said. He also warned the City Council they could open themselves up to legal action if they became too involved in the tax collection process.

“The more involved you are, the more likely a bad outcome could affect you,” he said.

City Council members said the staff was working to resolve the issue legally.

“I’m hoping if there are any discrepancies, and we work as a team, we can correct those discrepancies,” Vice Mayor Charles Brown said.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson added: “All we need to do is figure out what we need to do to make the process work.”

Williams encouraged anyone who is delinquent on taxes to contact his office at 514-4284 to work out a payment plan.

  • pumpn_fe

    It’s pretty simple people. Pay your taxes and you won’t have a problem. In the instances where the city has made a mistake, it happens. Get over it. You have 5 cars and one gets booted? Drive another one. I call and talk to someone and make sure everything is kosher, even tho it’s not my responsibility. A little proactivity on my part saves a lot of headache in the longrun. Also – if you can’t afford the taxes, you can’t afford the car. Same as a house. Maybe people should take that into consideration before making a purchase. Fiscal/personal responsibility and all… People seem to forget that and scapegoat the big bad govt. Let’s all complain about higher fees here and there from the city but I don’t want to pay my car tax and get mad when they boot it. Too bad so sad.

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  • Norseman

    This type of taxing is just wrong and counterproductive on many levels. Why did we give the state and local govts this authority? We need taxes/fees to run things but this type of tax promotes keeping older cars, cheating or not upgrading tools and computers n business etc. Why does the city need over 4k from my small family every year? The notion that the city didnt know aout this I find hard to belive. Someone complained and they had to adress it.

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  • Mildred

    Citizens need to organize and hire local Attorney Taylor to take on the Treasurer and fix this. His record of slaying the giants is what’s needed here by the poor people whose cars are being so brutally handled.

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  • Roger Leonard

    The real problem with this is the fact that errors have been made and there is little recourse once they get you. They boot all of your cars, not just the one you may have an issue with. I was out of town and found that a revised bill I did not get from the City for additional tax on one car, was used as a pretext to boot any of my five vehicles. I first noted the issue, when they were trying to boot my truck, for taxes on a car I had out of state. In fact I found-out they owed me money in credits and they claimed due to the way I filed my taxes with the IRS, I owed them some additional tax. Once I knew a payment was due, the same day they had a check. The motivated me for an unknown issue due, but what aggravation. One notice would have done and they would have had a check…
    The real issue with this is the Treasurer uses this process to put the citizen at risk without proper notice. If they intend to put you on the “Boot-list” then there should be proper notice given the citizen before they play games with you. The “got-cha” trip the Treasurer uses is just not right and insures conflict with the citizens. The real need is to get compliance and payment of taxes. Would it not be better to do so in a more productive manner? Give notice and after 30 days, they come for you. Seems fair and professional to all interests, and with safeguards to protect the citizens from overzealous process. The unwitting victims are given notice and can act and the scofflaws are dealt with… Ron, you can do better…

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  • OceanaJones

    The city needs to make sure there is plenty of oversight in this process to keep the private contractor honest. The city needs be able to take some form of drastic action to collect their forever rising and exorbant taxes they are imposing on their citizens. Soon te city will want the athority to put a real estate type lock on your home once you discover you cannot afford to pay the tax liability they have placed on it.

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