Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Blair to be on WINA

Charlottesville, Va.—I will appear on the Rob Schilling Show Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 12:15pm on WINA Am-1070.

I’ll be complaining about the city’s car tax decal ordinance. The decal or license fee has gone up to $33.50. The decal was eliminated a few years ago but they continue to charge for the sticker. One reason given at the time was it would save money. Who’s saving any money? We’re losing more money than ever.

What’s the solution? Hide the decal fee in the actual personal property tax. At least that would be honest. But the city has already fiddled with the formula to compute the car tax. Some people pay less but overall, it was a tax increase. When I look at my statement for my only vehicle, there’s the tax and the tax relief. We have former Governor Jim Gilmore to thank for the tax relief. It was 70% but now appears closer to 50%.

Below is the story I wrote on the Sep. 7, 2004 City Council meeting. “Charlottesville tickets Va. Beach cars: A hundred reasons to do nothing.” Councilor Schilling asks how many complaints, how many tickets are we talking about. Neither Assistant City Attorney Lisa Kelly (introduced simply as “Ms. Kelly”) nor Police Chief Tim Longo knew the magnitude of the problem. They were unprepared.

On the radio, I’ll also update Rob’s listeners on my call to the show Feb. 12 this year. I asked Councilor Holly Edwards for help getting the Housing Authority / urban renewal archives released to the public. I followed up a couple weeks ago. Now Holly’s trying to arrange a meeting with Housing Authority’s newest director Randy Bickers and UVA’s Dr. Scot French. In Feb. 2007 French talked about Vinegar Hill at First Baptist Church on West Main, site of the first Jefferson School in 1865. In Nov. 2007 French said the archives had been digitized and would be online in a couple months.

That hasn’t happened. So I continue to pressure to have the 6,845 text documents, 1,189 photographs, and 189 maps and blueprints made public. Nobody likes to talk about urban renewal. The questions people have are not so complex. They want to know what was here before urban renewal. What is our history? What are our roots? These are the answers we’re seeking.

Why would there be resistance to preserving this history? Until someone tells you why they’re doing something bad, you have to speculate the motive. I predict the archives will show that Vinegar Hill is not the only, not the biggest, not the most controversial urban renewal in the city’s history. The archives are top secret because they show Councilor Satyendra Huja fibbed when he relied on the Vinegar Hill myth and said urban renewal happened before he became city planner in 1973. In fact, it never stopped.

“Latest Archive Request on WINA”, Feb. 12, 2009. Includes urban renewal timeline.

Charlottesville tickets Va. Beach cars: A hundred reasons to do nothing
(Charlottesville Independent Media, September 8, 2004)

So we're looking for some direction from you. As you can see various city officials have received correspondence from Va. Beach's commissioner of revenue, and our office has received correspondence from the city attorney's office in Va. Beach. And Senator Creigh Deeds has also weighed in on the issue and asked if the city of Charlottesville will help work this out with Va. Beach. And he would like to know what is your pleasure.

"Before the Court" Nov 19 2001


I focus on this story because the car tax and its enforcement process have caused so much headache that former governor Gilmore rose to that office on the platform to phase out the car tax state-wide. The phase-out is stuck at 70 percent; you pay 30 percent now.

This issue was well-publicized in 2001 when Greene county supervisors voted unanimously twice that then sheriff William Morris should enforce the car tax decal ordinance by issuing citations. A judge ruled that it was a matter for the public since the sheriff is elected county-wide as a check and balance on the county legislature. After the enforcement process was halted, both personal property tax revenue and compliance with the decal ordinance increased. Apparently, people were not paying as a political protest against the collection method.

The car tax issue in Charlottesville that same year went unnoticed in the mainstream press. The fine for not displaying a proper decal more than tripled on July 1 2001 and was documented in The Witness Report alternative.

( "Parking Ticket or Tax Notice?", Aug. 26 2001 "Civil Disobedience," Oct 11 2001, "Before the Court," Nov 19 2001, "Sheriff Vindicated," Dec 20 2001.
All 19 pages. )

I believe that Charlottesville's car tax decal ordinance has been struck down by a circuit judge. In the story "Before the Court," I wrote the letter to the court. Subsequently, I have registered 2 vehicles in the city. The 3 tickets totaling $160 have been expunged from my record. I did not hear back from the court and was hoping the tickets would just go away; as they have.

Tuesday Sep 7 2004 - Charlottesville City Council broadcast live on Adelphia Cable channel 10 and not rebroadcast at any other time.


This agenda item was off to a bad start when city staff spokeswoman Ms. Kelly had to be called in from the hallway when the mayor called for the report.

KELLY: "You have before you some information about a request that was received from the city of Virginia Beach asking us to stop ticketing their citizens' vehicles for failure to display a local license decal.

What has happened is that Va. Beach has stopped issuing their own local decal in favor of entering into an agreement with the Department of Motor Vehicles for the state to collect taxes, their local taxes for them, at the time when the vehicle registration is renewed every year.

This state program was set up in 1992. So far only Va. Beach has chosen to participate in the program. And we aren't able to get very good information about whether or not that participation has either saved Va. Beach any money or has resulted in a loss of revenue for Va. Beach. What we can tell you is that at this point the Department of Motor Vehicles is not accepting additional localities into the program.

And there's only one other locality that we're aware of, York County, that is also not issuing their own local decal license. However they're not participating in the state program. They've just chosen not to issue local decals within their community..."

Apparently, some Va. Beach residents are being ticketed in Charlottesville for not displaying a local decal. So they complained to their local officials who have now complained to Charlottesville officials. Right now, if you get a ticket, you call the Charlottesville's treasurer's office and mail in proof that your car is registered in Va. Beach. But Va. Beach residents don't want to get the ticket in the first place.

KELLY: "The options you have before you are 3 right now:

1- Do what Va. Beach is asking and cease enforcement of the decal requirement. This would protect Va. Beach residents. But the problem is that it would bring our own enforcement to a halt because our officers who are out doing parking enforcement don't have the computer hand-held mobile units that would allow them to do sort-of an instant check to figure out where a car is registered.

2- The second option is to come up with a program where we would sell to people in Va. Beach or York County a local decal, whether it was one of our own city decals, which is what Albemarle County apparently does, or some other kind of decal or card that they could affix to their car so that the parking enforcement officers would be able to tell if they are a properly registered car in Va. Beach. They just don't have a decal.

The downside of doing that is that it's a fair amount of time and effort to be spent by the city treasurer's office. Jennifer Brown is willing to do that. In the long run, having that type of permit may actually save her and her employees some work because they're spending a lot of time now resolving complaints brought by the Va. Beach citizens.

The upside of that is that may help some Va. Beach citizens avoid, the people who, particularly the people who visit here more frequently to avoid further tickets. The problem is it won't take care of everyone because there may be an occasional visitor from Va. Beach who doesn't know the permit is available or unwilling to pay for one for a one-time visit.

3- And the third option is simply to continue the status quo, to say to Va. Beach residents who may receive the occasional ticket, just put your proof of residency and a your vehicle registration in the mail and the ticket will dismissed, no fees, no penalties.

So we're looking for some direction from you. As you can see various city officials have received correspondence from Va. Beach's commissioner of revenue, and our office has received correspondence from the city attorney's office in Va. Beach. And Senator Creigh Deeds has also weighed in on the issue and asked if the city of Charlottesville will help work this out with Va. Beach. And he would like to know what is your pleasure."

Councilor Kevin LYNCH: What would it take to have the 4 or 5 parking enforcement officers aquire the mobile equipment to enable instant wireless vehicle checks? It seems like we would already have the ability to get that information quickly.

KELLY: "I'm sure it's a matter of money" but not sure how much. But there's also the software that goes with it, the programming, access to the database. "I'm sure it's not as monumental a task as some." But money is the issue.

Councilor Rob SCHILLING: How many tickets are we talking about here? How many cars without decals? How many from Va. Beach?

KELLY: (doesn't know)

Police Chief Tim LONGO: "I don't know the answer to that question but my guess would be it's not a significant number. I will tell you that when they're issued, we certainly hear about them very loudly and very clearly from Va. beach residents. But with respect to the computer issue, we are moving in the direction of implementing mobile data in vehicles. We're probably 2 years out with the implementation of the 800-megahetz radio system...right now that verification has to be done through voice radio. It's a tremendous amount of radio traffic. And to do that over the radio would compromise safety."

SCHILLING: How about issuing cell phones to the parking patrol so they can call in a license number?

LONGO: We make cell phones available to our officers but unfortunately that call would go to our emergency communications center. "Because of the volume of vehicles that are checked and ticketed on a daily basis city-wide that would create a tremendous amount of traffic on the emercency communications center and their operators."

SCHILLING: Is there a way to make a call to a non-emergency number? I'm looking for a low-tech solution because I don't like any of the ones proposed so far. Can we set up a separate line?

LONGO: "Well, it wouldn't necessarily be a rare occurrence because it would require every ticket we issue for the, whether there's no decal, for the traffic control officer, parking control officer to run that tag. It could create a significant amount of phone traffic that would be a staffing issue for emergencency communications center. And I could not make that decision unilaterally. We could pursue talking with Mr. Hanson and his staff" and come up with something.

SCHILLING: I would appreciate it.

Councilor Kendra HAMILTON: There was a reference to repeat offenders. Are people getting tickets over and over again? University students?

KELLY: I believe there are. Some students and visiting parents from Va. Beach, football games and other events account for repeat visits.

Mayor David BROWN: Would it be helpful when we issued a ticket, we could provide information on how a citizen could deal with this, perhaps a flyer attached to the ticket. printed on the envelope or something to mitigate this process and avoid creating new work for anybody.

LONGO: "It would not likely be practical, Mr. Mayor, because the ticket is generated by a hand-held device that's electronically generated. I suspect that adding any language on those citations, as you suggest, would come with a significant price tag."

SCHILLING: Could we have some kind of a sticker to notify police that the car is registered in Va. Beach?

LONGO: If a significant number of these vehicles are university related, then the university is in a position to issue some kind of decal during orientation. Such a decal would be less problematic for the police, more problematic for property owners, but less problematic for the city treasurer.

HAMILTON: "That's an excellent suggestion... I get traffic tickets all over the place. I either pay them or challenge them. Then if it's too much trouble to challenge them, I pay them. So I question shifting the burden to city staff or our officers...I think the burden needs to be on the people incurring the violation."

BROWN: Do you think that continuing with status quo may result in a legal challenge and create even more than we were anticipating?

KELLY: "I'm not sure there is an option that may not result in that problem." One challenge could be whether police have the authority to pull you over for not displaying the decal. Another problem is Va. Beach residents may not want to pay for the decal when they don't have to pay in Va. Beach. "If we continue the status quo, the Va. Beach city attorney and commissioner of revenue have indicated that they think we are behaving unlawfully...I'm not sure there is an option that won't result in a challenge. So we should do what's best for us."

HAMILTON: How flexible are the Va. Beach officials in helping us work this out? What is their attitude?

KELLY: So far they insist we stop issuing the tickets.

LYNCH: Charlottesville can't be the only place where Va. Beach residents visit. Have you spoken to other communities, like Blacksburg with a large student population?

KELLY: Charlottesville has an "ordinance that prohibits you from operating a vehicle on a city street without the required decal and also an ordinance that prohibits the parking of a vehicle on city streets without a decal. Some localities just have one or the other." "I suspect a substantial number of our violations are being generated by the parking issue and not the operating or moving issue."

BROWN: If the city treasurer can create a new decal or permitting system and the university could educate their people, we could work something out.

KELLY: Va. Beach wants to know from us which direction city council is headed.

HAMILTON: Can the treasurer simply issue a decal or one at reduced rate to a Va. Beach visitor?

KELLY: Two problems with that: the decal indicates where you car is garaged and has to match up with state registration if the state license plate is run. If we issue a city decal to someone, our computer system will automatically generate a personal property tax assessment for that vehicle, then we have to go into the software and cancel it out. So there is some expense.

LYNCH: Can we get more information on how many tickets we're talking about. Dozens a month, hundreds a month?

KELLY: Still doesn't know. Will find out, sense that it's less than a dozen a month.

LYNCH: Maybe we should stick with status quo for 2 years until we get the hand-held ability to run a vehicle check.

City manager Gary O'CONNELL: "It's beyond hand-held. It's every police officer having access. And you've got the traffic people that are doing it, then the police officers that are doing it. So you're into hundreds of thousands of dollars...So a low-tech solution is the way to go." Let's give notice to the university before we create a special decal.

LYNCH: But only the traffic cops are doing the parked cars, right? The regular police run the license anyway in a traffic stop.

LONGO: It's a little more complicated than that. You're talking about infrastructure and thousands of man-hours.

BROWN: Brought the discussion to a close.

SCHILLING: I want to stick with the status quo and look for mitigating low-tech work-arounds. "We're using a sledge hammer to kill a fly here", he said of the proposals so far.

HAMILTON: Can we say to Va. Beach, in about 2 years, this will not be an issue? Will they work with us?

KELLY: "My guess is yes." If we go with option 2, that takes care of repeat offenses but you have more expense but a permit fee may be able to cover that. We're thinking it would cost the same to issue a separate decal as it does for the usual one, about $25 per decal.

... a few more requests from the councilors and city attorney for more specifics and numbers. Council took no action, indicating that status quo is preferable to alternatives of actually having to do something. Councilor Blake Caravati was absent on a junket to France.


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