Local / Virginia

Newport News to start impounding vehicles for unpaid taxes


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Delinquent taxpayers in Newport News could have their vehicles impounded if new cameras snap a photo of their license plates around town.
In an attempt to claim the nearly $4 million in delinquent personal property taxes owed, the city will soon begin using license plate scanners to find vehicles on which more than $200 in personal property taxes are owed.
The cameras will be mounted to the backs of six sheriff’s department cruisers to automatically read license plate numbers. Those numbers will be cross-searched with a database updated daily of all the license plates in the city with more than $200 in personal property taxes owed, Treasurer Marty Eubank said.
If a match is found, an alarm will sound, and the deputy will call the Treasurer’s office to verify that the payment has not been made. If the owner is present, they can pay on the spot, Eubank said. If not, a sticker will be placed on the car telling the owner they have three business days to pay or set up a reasonable payment plan before the vehicle is towed and impounded.
The city will hold the vehicle for 30 days, sometimes longer on a case-by-case basis, before auctioning it off as “a last resort,” Eubank said.
“It is only fair to all the taxpayers who pay on time to enforce the collection of taxes on those individuals who do not,” Eubank said. “We’re not trying to make a profit. We’re trying to make it as reasonable as possible.”
The license plate data will not be stored, city spokeswoman Kim Lee said.
The sheriff’s department got the six cameras from the city’s police department, which bought them with a grant to help locate stolen vehicles, Lee said.
The city of Hampton began using license-plate readers to find delinquent taxpayers in fiscal year 2008, with a different process than Newport News is planning.
Hampton has one camera mounted to a city minivan, not a police vehicle, which is driven around town every week day, said Dave Ellis, field compliance supervisor in the HamptonTreasurer’s Office. When field investigators find a vehicle with a license plate for which more than $5 in property taxes is owed, they first place a warning sticker on the vehicle telling the owner to make contact with the city. If there is no response from the owner after about a week, the investigators go back and remove the license plates or put on a wheel lock, Ellis said.
If the city does not hear from the owner within a reasonable amount of time, the city tows the car and sells it in public auction — a move investigators “bend over backwards” to avoid, Ellis said.
“We wanted people (using the scanners) to not read it black and white, that you have paid taxes or you haven’t,” Ellis said. “If someone has medical bills, has to feed a child, or pay taxes, it’s pretty easy to see which one will be their priority.”
Last year, Hampton received nearly $60,000 in back taxes as a result of the cameras.
Isle of Wight County outsources some of its delinquent tax collections and the company does use license plate scanners, said spokesman Don Robertson.
York County, Poquoson, James City County, Gloucester and Mathews do not use license readers to find delinquent taxpayers, spokespeople said.
The program will begin in Newport News April 1.
Information from: Daily Press, http://www.dailypress.com/
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.