One-quarter of vehicle owners in Arlington will pay no car tax when bills come due in October.
That’s the good news. The bad news: All those owners will still be on the hook for the vehicle-decal fee, even though County Board members earlier this year abolished the requirement to display decals on windshields.
The Arlington treasurer’s office mailed out nearly 150,000 annual bills to vehicle owners as of Aug. 19, which will result in $37.74 million in tax revenue – working out to an average bill of about $255.
But for the owners of more than 37,000 vehicles, the tax bill will be zero, largely because the assessed value is less than $3,000, on which there is no tax due.
Treasurer Carla de la Pava provided the Sun Gazette with a breakdown of vehicle tax bills, which showed that 35 pricey vehicles garnered tax bills of between $5,001 and $10,000, and an additional 10 vehicles at the very top of the pyramid have tax assessments averaging more than $14,000 apiece.
(The county government’s personal-property rate is 5 percent of the total assessed value above $20,000, plus between 50 percent and 73 percent – depending on the type of vehicle – of the total between $3,001 and $20,000. The state government subsidizes part of tax bills up to $20,000, which will add up to more than $31 million that is handed over from the state government to the county government this cycle.)
The treasurer’s office is only responsible for collecting the taxes; the tax rate is set by the County Board. As part of the board’s fiscal 2020 budget, the requirement was rescinded that county residents display a windshield decal signifying payment of the tax, but board members couldn’t bring themselves to part with the actual decal fee (also known as the motor-vehicle license fee). Vehicle owners will have to pay $33 for each one – which will bring in about $5 million to county-government coffers.
County Board action came despite concerns that maintaining the one-fee-fits-all decal fee was regressive and hit hardest at lower-income families.
Technically, the 2018-19 decals are valid through November, but county officials have said they will no longer be enforced and residents could take them off starting July 1.
The windshield stickers had been a fixture on Arlington vehicles, adjacent to the state-inspection sticker, since 1967, when they supplanted metal strips that had been attached below license plates to signal payment of vehicle personal-property taxes.
Even after some Northern Virginia jurisdictions began eliminating the decal requirement – Fairfax County, in 2006, was among the first – Arlington officials saw them as a valuable enforcement tool. Eventually, however, Arlington leaders decided to join the pack and eliminate the decals. Neighboring Falls Church also this year is discontinuing their use.
Arlington’s annual car-tax bills are payable by Oct. 5, the same date as real-estate bills for the second half of the year are due.