The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Boot means bonanza in back taxes, fines
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY
In recent years, Fredericksburg Treasurer G.M. Haney has found a way to put the boot to delinquent taxpayers, literally.
The boot goes on their cars. To get rid of it, they must find a way to pay those taxes.
After having success immobilizing cars for unpaid parking citations, Haney decided in 2008 to try it for personal property taxes.
He’s had success.
In fiscal year 2011, 638 cars were booted and the city collected about $146,000, Haney said.
Before a car is booted, the tax bill must be at least 30 days overdue and the taxpayer must be notified several times and told of the potential booting, Haney said.
Tod Runyon, the city employee who does the booting, said unpaid fines higher than $75 are the ones that trigger the boot.
Haney’s office is able to find people with delinquent personal property tax bills or unpaid parking citations using a license plate recognition system with something called a “SmartBoot” mounted on a car.
When a car is booted, large stickers with a toll-free number are placed on the car’s driver-side window and windshield.
The car owner can call the number and use a debit or credit card to pay the $150 boot-removal fee and any bills or fines.
Once the bill is paid, the operator gives the car’s owner a combination that unlocks the boot. The owner must return the boot to a local auto repair shop that holds it for the city.
Haney said that in years past, residents could not get parking decals if they had unpaid fines. But the sale of decals has been discontinued.
“Now, rather then the sticker being the controlling device, the boot is,” he said.
“They come in here by the dozens trying to make arrangements to pay their taxes.”
If the person doesn’t pay the bill, the car is towed. If the car isn’t retrieved after 10 days, it’s sold.
Haney said the city typically sells ten to 12 cars per year.
Word about being “booted” has gotten out, Haney said, and more people are coming in to pay their bills to avoid the car boot.
Haney said that in fiscal 2011, he set up 344 payment plan contracts for people facing the boot, getting them on a path to pay their personal property taxes.
The collection rate is up to about 95 percent since the booting started, Haney said.
“I think we have to keep booting to keep people paying their bills,” he said.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413