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ArlingtonCounty's vehicle-decal fee likely a goner this weekend

County’s vehicle-decal fee likely a goner this weekend

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Arlington County Board members on May 14 are expected to follow through on a promise made last month and eliminate the “decal fee” that has been imposed for decades as part of residents’ car-tax bills.

And while the action will save residents a collective $6 million, it’s a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul situation, as higher personal-property taxes likely will eat up all the savings.

Until three years ago, Arlington vehicle owners were required to attach a decal on their windshields (from the 1940s to the 1960s, a metal plate to license plates) to show that the property tax on the vehicle had been paid. Since 2008, the fee has been $33 (perhaps no surprise to some, the maximum allowed under state law), even though since 2019 no decal has been issued.

Because the $33 fees has been levied equally on every vehicle – be it a Bentley or a “beater” – it ran afoul of the County Board’s current focus on “equity.” Dumping the fee will benefit those who own lower-valued vehicles, a group that also sees its tax bills reduced or even eliminated due to the state-government subsidy enacted in the 1990s after Republican Jim Gilmore won the governorship under the slogan “No Car Tax.”


The city of Alexandria and Stafford County previously had eliminated decal feels; the fiscal 2023 budgets of Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the city of Falls Church retain them (all at $33 except Loudoun, which is $25).

Despite the elimination of the decal fee, rising used-car values will mean some taxpayers will still be hit in the pocketbook, even though County Board members also have enacted a one-year effective reduction in the tax rate of approximately 12 percent. For this year, vehicles will be taxed at the longstanding rate of $5 per $100 assessed value, but at 88 percent of fair-market value, compared to the usual 100 percent of valuation.

Car-tax bills will come due in the fall.

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