Car-Mounted Cameras to Target Delinquent Taxpayers in Suffolk, Va.

A new proposal aims to scan license plates to identify and penalize people who owe the city personal property taxes.

by / April 8, 2010
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If you owe personal property taxes to Suffolk, Va., watch where you park your car because you might lose it.

Pushing a proposal aimed to track delinquent taxpayers, Suffolk City Treasurer Ron Williams wants to deploy car-mounted cameras to scan license plates on parked vehicles and seize the ones whose owners are in the red. In total, residents owe about $1.4 million in personal property taxes from the past two years, Williams said, and he plans to get some of that money back one tow at a time.

"Our primary objective is to get the taxes paid," he said.

The measure, which must be approved by the City Council, should go to vote in May. In the meantime, Williams is finalizing a contract Virginia Auction Company Inc., which would run the tax collecting program. The city wouldn't have to pay a dime.

"In order to maximize the return on taxpayer dollars," Williams said, "we will not have to make any capital investment."

To start, the company would outfit two vehicles with dual cameras mounted on the rear, with a rugged laptop inside. The cameras would scan the license plates in parking lots, parking garages and along city streets. It is the same technology used by police to identify stolen cars, Williams said.

The computer will be linked to a database of delinquent personal property accounts. If a license plate sets off an alert for delinquent taxes, the company will impound the vehicle. To recover the car, the individual must pay his or her taxes owed to the city, as well as the collection and storage costs to the contractor. The treasurer's office, Williams said, would be willing to establish a payment plan "if a taxpayer is acting in good faith." The program would change the way unpaid taxes on vehicles have been handled in the past.

"Historically a large percentage of the time, the bank would pay the taxes and take the vehicle themselves," Williams said. "But today, they're so overloaded with repossessions; they're not going to want the car."

If the measure gets approved and you come out of a supermarket one day to find out your car has been towed because you owe taxes, you won't be stranded.

"We'll make sure that they get safely home," Williams said. "We'll either take them home or call a taxi for them."


Russell Nichols Staff Writer