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Arlington’s Car Decal Program Could Soon End, Though Its Fees Would Stick Around

Arlington’s personal property tax car decals coon soon be a thing of the past, even as the tax associated with the tags looks set to stay.

The County Board is now considering eliminating the requirement that vehicles garaged in Arlington display a decal to demonstrate its owner has paid the necessary property tax on the car, effective July 1, 2019.

The county would instead rely entirely on workers using a license plate reading system to determine whether the owner of any given vehicle is up to date on their taxes. Vehicle owners will still need to pay the annual property tax, as well as the “motor vehicle license fee,” commonly known as the “decal fee.”

Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy’s staff will use the license plate reader technology, which the county first purchased back in 2004, “to more efficiently and effectively ensure personal property tax compliance without vehicle owners displaying a decal,” according to a county staff report prepared for the Board.

Staff also believe the change will “relieve an unnecessary burden on taxpayers,” ending a requirement that’s been in place in the county in one form or fashion since 1949. The move would also mark the end to the annual design competition for the decals, which has given high school students the chance to feature their artwork on the tag since 2005.

Arlington is one of 21 localities around the state to still require the car decals, according to the staff report, and Loudoun County recently eliminated its requirement for the tags.

A decision on the matter is still a ways off, however. The County Board will vote at its Saturday (July 14) meeting whether to call for a public hearing on the question, which would then be set for September 22.

File photo

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Online Voting Begins for Virginia License Plate Design Contest

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles opened online voting today for a license plate design contest intended to help combat distracted driving.

Voters in the Take Action Against Distraction contest have a choice between eight license plate designs created by Virginia high school students. Each license plate aims to raise awareness about distracted driving, whether it be by texting or drivers failing to keep their eyes on the road.

In 2016, distracted driving caused thousands of crashes and claimed 175 lives in Virginia, according to one report.

Voting will be open through March 20, and the winner will be awarded $1,000, courtesy of AAA Mid-Atlantic, the contest’s co-sponsor. Users can vote once every 24 hours.

“We’re so proud of the winners and their excellent license plate designs,” said Martha Meade, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, in a press release. “AAA Mid-Atlantic is proud to partner with DMV for this effort to bring distracted driving issues to the forefront.”

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Morning Poll: ‘Virginia Is For Lovers’ License Plates

New Virginia license plateYou’re now starting to see them around town.

Virginia’s new standard license plate, featuring the famous tourism slogan “Virginia Is For Lovers,” began being issued by the DMV last month. ARLnow.com has spotted several cars around Arlington sporting the new-look tags.

Other than the slogan — with a heart instead of the “v” in “lovers” — the license plate is the same blue-and-white design the Commonwealth has utilized for years. Nonetheless, when changes like this are made to something we’re all used to seeing on a daily basis, some strong feelings are sure to emerge.

What do you think about the new plates?
 

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Group Seeking Support for ‘Pollinator’ Plates

A group of local nature lovers is hoping to attract support for a new Virginia license plate with the inscription “Protect Polinators.” The plate is meant to bring attention to the role pollinators — bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, etc. — play in supporting the vitality of the earth’s ecosystem and food supply.

“So far we’ve had quite a lot of interest from Beekeepers, Master Gardeners, Naturalists (including native plant and pollinator enthusiasts), and the Audubon Society,” said pollinator plate organizer Samantha Gallagher. “Like all of the proposed new Virginia plates, we need 450 applicants, the General Assembly’s vote, and the DMV’s approval.”

According to the Virginia Pollinator Plate web site, supporters have signed up 44 people so far. They need another 406 commitments by November 2012 to move on to getting legislative and DMV support. An electronic application can be found here.

Gallagher says the purpose of the plate is not to raise money, but to raise awareness.

“Our plate costs $10 annually and isn’t a shared revenue plate, but our hope is that it provokes interest and conversation in pollinator conservation,” she said.

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Spotted: Arlington Tax Enforcers on the Prowl

Just like Santa Claus, Arlington’s tax enforcers know whether you’ve been naughty or nice. But instead of giving you a lump of coal in your stocking, the tax enforcers are taking something: your license plates.

We spotted Arlington County’s Automated License Plate Recognition vehicle on the prowl (see photo, top) in an apartment parking lot today. The vehicle — the only one of its kind in the county fleet — automatically reads license plates and tells the tax enforcement employee inside which vehicles belong to owners with overdue parking fines, vehicle property taxes or other public debts.

When they find a vehicle whose owner owes a considerable amount of taxes and/or fines, the enforcers will confirm the vehicle type and then either use an electric screwdriver to take the vehicle’s license plates (for Virginia plates) or place a boot on the vehicle’s wheel (for out-of-state plates). The owner then has to pay up to get the plates back or the boot taken off.

(Sometimes owners who owe less than $200 are let off the hook with a simple warning note.)

The county bought the Automated License Plate Recognition system for some $30,000 back in 2004. Arlington was the first locality in the U.S. using such technology for tax purposes, according to the county Treasurer’s Office. Since it was first rolled out, we’re told the license plate readers have helped collect some $1.4 million.

“It has paid its way many times since then,” Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary told ARLnow.com. O’Leary said the average debt collected is between $600 and $700.

The county typically does not tow vehicles, to relieve owners of the “extra hardship” of having to retrieve the vehicle and pay the towing fee, according to O’Leary.

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Applicants Wanted for Tree Lover License Plate

Now’s your chance to apply for a Virginia Loves Trees license plate. But there’s a catch: it’s not actually available yet.

Arlington’s Urban Forestry Division encourages residents to apply for the plate. It should become available if 450 pre-paid applications are received and the General Assembly approves it next year. It will then be submitted to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

If the idea is accepted, the specialty plate will carry an additional yearly cost of $25. The revenue sharing plates allow Virginia Loves Trees to collect funds from each additional plate sold or renewed after the first 1,000 are issued. $15 from each sale will go toward urban forestry programs.

Until the plate is approved by the General Assembly, the design is considered a prototype and may end up changing slightly. You can apply for the plate either online or by mail.

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Morning Poll: License Plate Readers

Those cameras mounted on the back of some Arlington police cruisers are actually quite effective at catching criminals, it turns out.

Arlington Police make at least one arrest per day thanks to the cameras, which snap photos of passing license plates and compare them to a database of stolen cars and wanted subjects. According to an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times earlier this week, the cameras can process up to 100,000 license plates per hour.

“It’s quick and efficient,” Arlington police Capt. Kevin Reardon told the Times.

Not everybody supports the cameras, however. Privacy watchdogs have raised questions about whether the technology can be abused or used to keep tabs on innocent people.

What do you think?


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Del. Brink Hails Passage of Pro-Choice License Plate Bill

Arlington’s Del. Bob Brink (D) is hailing the passage of a bill that would create a pro-choice “Trust Women / Respect Choice” license plate option for Virginia drivers. The bill passed the Virginia House and the Senate over the weekend by votes of 64-30 and 22-15 respectively.

Brink, who introduced the original House version of the bill, called the vote “a victory both for reproductive rights and First Amendment principles.”

Brink says the bill will allow the state to “give equal treatment to the pro-choice position,” given last year’s creation of a “Choose Life” license plate.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who has said he doesn’t support Planned Parenthood, the organization that would receive revenue from the sale of the plates.

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