Tax collector: Pay up

Published 8:07 pm Saturday, July 9, 2011

Collector: Thomas Black, a collector for Virginia Auction and Collection Company, shows off one of two vehicles fitted with license plate readers to aid in collecting overdue taxes.

If you want to avoid getting stuck at the grocery store or the movies without an operable car, you’d better pay your past-due taxes.

That’s the message from city and county treasurers in neighboring jurisdictions, who are using a third-party contractor to track down vehicles belonging to deadbeat taxpayers — even when those vehicles are in Suffolk.

“This is sort of a last-ditch effort to collect taxes for the localities,” said Roy Black of Virginia Auction and Collection Company. “It’s a good way to collect taxes that are really uncollectible any other way.”

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The company has two vehicles fitted with trunk-mounted license plate readers that scan plates and compare them to a database of vehicles with past-due taxes. Employees drive through parking lots waiting for the computer to alert them to a match.

When they find one, they verify the vehicle is the correct one, place a boot on a tire and leave stickers on the driver’s window with information on how to free the car. Owners must pay the past-due taxes in full, as well as 20 percent of the past-due amount and a booting fee, which go to Virginia Auction and Collection.

Vehicles whose owners don’t pay up by the end of the day get towed, and the owner gets slapped with towing and storage fees, as well. If they never produce the money, their vehicle gets sold at auction.

The company has contracts with the cities of Franklin, Portsmouth and Chesapeake, as well as Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. But company headquarters is in Suffolk, on Nansemond Parkway.

“The readers are out every day, and they have to go through Suffolk to get to where we go,” Black said. “While we’re driving, we’re not going to pass up a shopping center.”

The company’s drivers steer clear of churches, hospitals and funeral homes, but anything else is fair game — shopping centers, public lots and on-street parking.

Local treasurers and company officials say state law endorses the program by allowing them to collect the property “in the hands of any person” (58.1-3941 of the Code of Virginia).

“It’s just a very efficient way to collect delinquent taxes,” Suffolk city treasurer Ron Williams said. “They’re having great success with it.”

Williams has wanted to institute the program in Suffolk, but says he has not been able to get support from city administrators or City Council.

That’s not stopping Black from seizing vehicles in Suffolk that have unpaid taxes in other jurisdictions.

He says by the time treasurers submit the vehicle’s information to him for collection, they have tried all the more standard collection methods, including wage garnishments and bank account liens.

However, those methods don’t always work because many people don’t have bank accounts and get paid in cash, Black said.

According to Black, Isle of Wight County got about $600,000 in tax dollars in the first three months of using the program that it likely would never have gotten.

He says many times, they don’t have to boot deadbeats’ cars — just hearing that the program is in effect is enough to spur some people to pay their taxes.

“The people who pay their taxes like it because they figure they have to pay their taxes, everybody needs to pay taxes,” Black said.

His brother Thomas Black, who is a collector for the company, said all localities should be considering the program.

“Some people think this is an extreme method, but when budgets are tight, extreme methods are called for.”