County takes cars from delinquent taxpayers

Tax evaders in Warren County now can expect to lose their vehicles until they pay what they owe.

Treasurer Wanda Bryant and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday began a collaborative effort to collect delinquent taxes on personal property. This marks the first time the treasurer employed law enforcement to impound a vehicle whose owner had not paid the personal property taxes.

“It’s just so many [who are] trying to beat the system and it’s not fair to those that pay their taxes because the burden falls back,” Bryant said. “Unpaid taxes are left out there. People that pay, theirs has to go up and that’s pretty much how it works … we’re using every tool we have.”

Bryant also issued a warrant in debt that will be filed with the courts.

Chief Deputy Dayle Cooley had a vehicle on Meadow Court in Front Royal towed on Thursday. The owner owes more than $2,160 in personal property taxes on more than one vehicle, Cooley said. The owner is three years delinquent, Bryant said.

The deputy looked for owners who owed at least two years of personal property taxes on a vehicle. Additionally, the vehicle would have to be worth enough that the county could recoup those taxes if the office had to sell the property at auction because the owner did not pay the delinquent amount, Cooley explained.

“You want to make sure that you’re not picking up something old that’s not going to cover it or anything,” Cooley said. “If they say, well, keep it, then you gotta sell it and you want to make sure you cover your sale price if you have to auction it.”

Cooley picked the vehicle towed on Thursday at random from the county treasurer’s list. The deputy searched for unpaid vehicle taxes from 2012 whose last names begin with the letter “B,” she explained. Cooley then selected a vehicle from those whose owners still owed taxes from 2012.

“There was no science to it,” Cooley said.

The deputy said she didn’t find that many vehicles among the delinquent accounts.

Once the deputy identifies a vehicle, the officer has the property towed to a secure lot at the county public safety building. The owner can retrieve the vehicle once he or she pays the taxes and penalties owed as well as the fee for the towing, Cooley said.

Bryant likely won’t stop there. The longtime treasurer said she is looking into using “boots” that, when attached to a tire and locked, keep the vehicle from moving. A deputy would put a boot on a vehicle in arrears on its taxes. The owner would need to pay the taxes and penalties owed on the vehicle to have the boot removed.

Bryant has used a program called DMV Stop through which the treasurer and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles can keep the owner of a delinquent account from renewing his or her driver’s license. However, that effort doesn’t always compel owners to pay the taxes they owe.

While the treasurer’s office collects a high percentage of the personal property taxes owed, Bryant said she began considering several years ago other ways to recoup delinquent accounts.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com