Rockbridge County debates car decals again

By Megan Murchie-Beyma

The Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors is once again talking about getting rid of car decals.

Rockbridge County residents must purchase a $25 decal for their cars every year. The three-inch sticker goes on the windshield to identify county residents when they use services like county dumps.

Commissioner of Revenue David Whitesell said that having to get a new decal every year can be inconvenient and that it’s a pain to scrape off the glue residue left behind by the stickers.

“I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t like to do away with them,” he said.

County Attorney Vicki Huffman said there isn’t a simple solution to eliminate the annual decal
County Attorney Vickie Huffman takes notes at most recent Board of Supervisors meeting.  Photo by: Megan Murchie-Beyma

But County Attorney Vickie Huffman said there isn’t a simple solution to eliminate the annual decal.

“Getting rid of the decal—that little piece of sticker that goes on your windshield—is not all there is to it,” she said.

Recent budgets and County Treasurer Betty Trovato estimate that decals bring the county somewhere between $500,000 and $530,000 each year.

Without an annual decal, the county would need another way to make up the revenue. Huffman said the board has a variety of options that don’t involve cutting services or other expenses.

One option is to use revenue from the new admissions tax, but board members have expressed reluctance to do that at past meetings. Earlier this month, the board passed a 3% tax on tickets to events and other attractions in the county. It goes into effect next January.

Whitesell said his office is looking into increasing personal property taxes to replace decal revenue. He said he wants to find a tax rate that won’t cost vehicle owners more than the $25 they pay for the decal.

“They’re writing the check for the same amount of money, but they’re not having to put the decal on,” he said. “That way we’re keeping the tax neutral for the taxpayer and revenue neutral for us.”

The current personal property tax is calculated based on each vehicle’s assessed value. Owners of expensive cars pay more than owners of cheaper cars. If the tax increase is capped at $25, it would mean vehicle owners would pay the same or less than they currently pay, Whitesell said. But owners of boats, tractors and other property that don’t need decals would pay more.

Huffman said one way to avoid this would be to add a flat rate of $25 per vehicle to the personal property tax bill due in the fall. But she said this solution would increase the administrative burden.

She said employees might need to hand review personal property tax returns to make sure boats and tractors wouldn’t be charged the $25 fee and help residents coming in who were charged a decal fee for a vehicle they don’t drive.

“It could be done,” she said. “But, again, someone is going to have to devote a significant amount of time.”

Trovato said she would prefer raising the personal property tax rate. She said it would save the county money by reducing the number of mailings that must be sent each year.

The board has talked about getting rid of decals at least five times since 2000. The latest discussion was in 2018, when the board decided to postpone tackling the issue after struggling to find a fair way to replace the revenue, Whitesell said.

The board will resume the decal debate at a work session before its Feb. 22 meeting. Up to 10 members of the public can attend in person. The meeting will also be accessible on Zoom and YouTube Live.