When it comes to the soon-to-be-due annual Arlington car-tax bills, a lot of county residents are royally P.O.’d.
As in “Positively Outraged.”
And that visceral reaction to the tax bills has meant more work for the staffs of the county’s treasurer and commissioner of revenue offices, which have been on the front line fielding complaints even though they can hardly be termed responsible for the big run-up in vehicle values that, despite efforts by County Board members to help, has meant higher tax bills even for aging vehicles.
“We are seeing an increase in phone calls and e-mails from customers who are questioning their vehicle assessments,” Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy told the Sun Gazette. “Customers who are not aware what has happened with vehicle values are stunned and confused. Our employees do their best to explain how we assess motor vehicles, and how the tax is calculated.”
That big bump up in vehicle values traces its roots to the pandemic and supply-chain issues that followed. New-car prices spiked as a result of inventory problems, and used-car prices followed along.
In one sense, Arlington taxpayers catch a break every year, as Morroy’s office uses the “clean-loan value” from J.D. Power (formerly the National Automobile Dealers Association) for assessments. Some Virginia jurisdictions use other methods, which typically result in higher valuations.
Morroy said that once the unusual circumstances leading to the tax-bill spikes are explained, most taxpayers have an it-is-what-it-is acceptance.
The commissioner of revenue is responsible for assessments, but the treasurer’s office has the responsibility for taking in the money. And Treasurer Carla de la Pava and her staff are in roughly the same boat as Morroy and hers.
“We have received many complaints from citizens who are upset about their tax bill,” de la Pava told the Sun Gazette. “Some of them understand that the increase is because of the valuation, and some just think that there is an error somewhere.”
Receiving an explanation satisfies some taxpayers, but those who press the issue are directed to the commissioner’s office for further assistance, de la Pava said.
Recognizing that a major spike in values was coming, Arlington County Board members during their springtime budget deliberations decided to tax vehicles at 88 percent of assessed value, down from 100 percent most years.
County Board members also eliminated the $33-per-vehicle administrative charge – known as the “decal fee” before windshield decals were eliminated – which disproportionately hit taxpayers with older, less pricey vehicles.
Both Morroy and de la Pava, who are elected officials, say their staffs try to explain efforts undertaken by the County Board to lower tax burdens of vehicle owners.
“Some are consoled, and some are not,” de la Pava said of the response.
Those with long memories of Virginia politics will recall that Republican Jim Gilmore rode to the governorship over Democrat Don Beyer in 1997 with the campaign slogan “No Car Tax.”
But eliminating the personal-property tax on vehicles proved a harder sell with the General Assembly than it did with the electorate; while legislators subsequently voted to provide subsidies to localities so they can pass them on to taxpayers, the tax has never actually gone away, in part because Virginia’s 133 cities and counties seem to be dependent on the cash flow it provides.
Arlington officials, or instance, are expecting about $132 million in revenue from vehicle personal-property taxes in the fiscal year that began July 1, part of an overall budget of approximately $1.5 billion.
Annual personal-property taxes are due in October.