Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for the directives coming out of Raleigh.
The change in how vehicular property taxes are collected is a particularly puzzling development.
For years, local governments have collected those taxes, either handling the collection and processing in their local offices, or outsourcing that processing to private businesses in the state. Surry County has handled the work in-house, providing a consistently high level of service to county residents while collecting an amazing 98 percent of taxes due.
State officials have decided to change that, and they say it’s to help local governments collect a higher percentage of taxes due. We believe it’s purpose is more sinister — it’s a power grab to take control away from local governments and, as we’ve stated before, it’s a way to generate state revenue by charging local governments for the work they are required to do, and even worse, it’s a way for the state to get its hands on local money.
Look at the reason the state claims for the change. Officials have set up the new plan to require drivers to pay their taxes at the same time their vehicle registration is due — if they don’t pay, motorists can’t get a registration renewal. We agree this will probably be a strong incentive for auto owners to pay their taxes on time, and we really can’t find much fault with this part of the change.
What is galling are the other changes.
Surry County will be charged $2.05 for each of those payments processed on behalf of the state and the DMV. In essence, the work county employees are now doing they will continue to do, but the state will charge the county for doing this work. Sounds like the state is attempting to balance its budget by coming up with new charges to pass along to counties and their residents.
Under the new plan when the money is collected it will be taken by the state and later disbursed to the counties. Remember, this is a local tax — which begs the question why is the state getting involved in any form with its collection — yet now the state will effectively seize the money until it decides to give it back to local governments. We suspect when times are tight in Raleigh, those funds just might be used for other purposes and counties could end up running short at times. Remember a couple of years ago when the state delayed state income tax refunds in order to use the money for other purposes? We foresee the same thing happening with this county money.
Another distressing part of the change is the way it’s being implemented. Local county officials say the software and related technology has only recently been sent to the county. No one here knows how to run it, training has been and continues to be nearly non-existent, and there’s no one at the state level really all that interested in helping local employees learn to run the software.
Surry County Tax Director Michael Hartgrove has certainly given the impression no one at the state level seems to really know what’s going on, and they don’t seem to care.
Which makes us wonder — is this a case of gross negligence and ignorance by those in Raleigh implementing the program, or is there something else at work? Might some software manufacturer whose CEO is buddies with key state officials be profitting from this at taxpayer expense?
To her credit, Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Mount Airy, recognized the folly of this new system and the way it’s being implemented. She’s introduced a bill to stop the program, at least temporarily. We hope her colleagues will take up her cause and pass her bill. Unfortunately, we are not optimistic they all share the same level of common sense that Stevens seems to display.