Let new car tax system begin

Feb. 03, 2013 @ 04:07 PM

At the end of January, Durham County had collected the vast majority of real property taxes residents owed to provide the services we expect from our local government.

With seven months of the fiscal year gone – and the deadline for paying without penalty past – 96 percent of taxpayers had anted up for their real property tax bill. That’s typical of recent years, perhaps a bit better than some.

But the vehicle tax is another story altogether. Barely seven in 10 of those bills have been paid. And that number, at this point in the fiscal year, has been gradually ticking down in recent years.

The General Assembly eight years ago came up with a solution to that collection struggle. It mandated that vehicle registration and vehicle taxes would be linked.  No tax payment – no registration renewal.

But as so often happens, the details proved a bit peskier than the General Assembly might have imagined. The Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Revenue won permission to delay the launch until they could upgrade and integrate their computer systems to handle the new regulations.

Flash forward to this year, and two things are happening.

The computer systems are running smoothly and the linked payment system is set to go into effect in July.

Finally, you might think.

Not so fast.

Some state representatives from relatively small counties have introduced legislation to reverse the earlier law and de-link the tax and registration payments.

That’s wrong on two counts.

Philosophically, it undoes a sensible system for helping county governments collect revenue that’s owed them and that is now hard to collect – even in aggressive counties like Durham were the collection process for property taxes is quite successful.

On a practical level, it’s rendering pointless the time-consuming and expensive task of setting up the system to enable the combined collections. As The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg reports today, the county’s chief lobbyist told County Commissioners last week that the state has poured “several million” dollars into the new systems, and will have to pay up regardless of whether they are used.

“Citizens are ready for this to take place,” county tax administrator Kim Simpson said. “And it’s a smart thing for local and state government to work together for it to occur.”

Yes, it is. The General Assembly should let well enough alone and let the system go into service in July.