Council will ensure fair collectionsPublished 9:27pm Saturday, December 8, 2012
By Mike Duman
I am writing in response to information that has been published concerning the Suffolk treasurer’s policy of seizing vehicles for delinquent personal property tax through the use of a private collector/contractor.
On Nov. 14 I was contacted by a local businessman who was the lien holder of a vehicle seized to satisfy past due taxes. He expressed several concerns related to the seizure process and the significant charges incurred.
After reviewing the documents that were provided, I sought counsel from City Attorney Helivi Holland. After consulting Ms. Holland, several points of contention and concern were affirmed in how this process was structured and even allowed.
First, and foremost, Virginia Code section 58.1-3919.1 is very specific and states that the treasurer may employ “with approval of the local governing body” a private collection agent.
Upon review and in light of this clearly stated legal standard, further investigation determined there was no record of any such approval being obtained from City Council.
Subsequently, a letter was drafted by Ms. Holland and sent to City Treasurer Ron Williams requesting the use of a private collection agent cease until the proper legal process was followed and council approval granted. Mr. Williams agreed to this request.
The second issue will be addressed if and when the treasurer desires to re-institute the use of a private collector. At that time and with proper due process, the approval of such agent must be granted by City Council. Before consent is given, issues concerning procedure and fees will be considered.
I am confident my fellow council members will join together as the legislative body to ensure the citizens of Suffolk are treated fairly and not subjected to an overzealous course that places any unnecessary financial burden upon them.
In addition, what I found particularly disturbing were the statements by Kevin Appel, an attorney who represents the State Treasurers Association and was introduced by Mr. Williams, during the City Council meeting Dec. 5.
He stated that when pondering the approval issue, “most jurisdictions take a hands-off approach and say, ‘Mr. or Mrs. Treasurer that’s your job; do what you have to do.’” He also stated that many localities choose not to get involved with the process so they may be “insulated” and “cannot be blamed” for any collection activity that may go awry.
Such a strategy is personally offensive and implies this governing body would consider not getting involved and shirk its responsibility to aptly represent the citizenry. I assure the citizens of Suffolk there is no intention to proceed down that path.
I fully understand the city’s treasurer is authorized and obligated to collect the taxes due. In addition, the City Council may not dictate or interfere with how these core duties are performed. However, it is incumbent upon the treasurer to adhere to statutory due process.
If the treasurer chooses to avail himself of the use of a private collector in the future, I am certain that he, city staff and City Council will resolve this issue in a manner that provides for the efficient and reasonable collection of taxes without placing an undue monetary strain on those who can afford it the least.
Mike Duman represents the Chuckatuck Borough on the Suffolk City Council. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.