Fairfax Plan Scraps Car Decal and Fee

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fairfax County motorists would be spared the annual $25 auto decal fee -- and the dreary annual ritual of scraping that sticker off their windshields -- under a proposal offered yesterday by Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly.

Connolly (D-At Large), delivering his annual state of the county address, said technology has rendered the decal -- used as evidence that the motorist has paid personal property taxes -- obsolete. The proposal will go to the full board, where approval is virtually certain.

"If adopted, this proposal means the current green decal on your car will be the last one you will ever need to pay for," Connolly said. Fairfax would become the first Virginia jurisdiction to eliminate the decal and the fee, county officials said.

His plan comes as the county begins to assemble a budget for fiscal 2007, which starts July 1. With another thumping round of increased residential assessments expected to land in mailboxes later this month, board members are eager to offer some tax relief, even if it is as modest as elimination of the decal.

Connolly also said that the board would continue to cut the residential property tax rate, which it reduced by 13 cents last year to $1 per $100 of assessed value. He pledged that the rate this year would be brought below $1 this year for the first time. If history is any guide, however, the cuts won't completely offset the hefty tax bills residents will receive as a result of new assessments.

Elimination of the decal fee will cost the county about $20.3 million in revenue. Officials expect to make up the shortfall with increased revenue from residential property taxes and other sources.

Perhaps a more welcome development for drivers than abolition of the decal would be the end of traffic stops by Fairfax police enforcing the requirement. Motorists caught without decals face a $40 fine.

"Now what are the motorcycle cops supposed to do?" asked Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). "Now maybe they'll be out there directing traffic."

Kauffman said the decal ceased to be effective as an enforcement tool several years ago. The county once required payment of taxes before a driver could receive the decal. The decal now comes with the personal property tax bill.

County officials said electronic links to the state Department of Motor Vehicles make the decal redundant as an enforcement tool. The DMV will block license renewal, registration or purchase of license plates for any motorist with unpaid personal property taxes. The county can also put liens on salaries.

Motorists informed of Connolly's proposal were incredulous but pleased.

"Love it. Hard to believe," said Joseph Schnabel, 72, of Fairfax City, who immediately asked what other tax the county planned to raise to make up for the lost revenue. He said he was especially happy that he won't have to scrape anymore. "It's a real pain."

John Brosnan, 60, of Fairfax said he favored the reduction, as long as it did not result in cuts to any important programs. "That's always my first reaction to any reduction in taxes," he said.

Connolly devoted much of last night's address to promoting the vibrant condition of the county's economy (unemployment is at 2.4 percent) and to listing what he regarded as signal achievements of Fairfax government. They include breaking ground on a public safety and transportation operations center; initiatives to eliminate gang violence; preservation of 846 affordable homes and apartments and the purchase of a 180-apartment complex to provide additional moderately priced housing; and completion of the 38-mile Cross County Trail.

With projects funded by the 2004 bond referendum underway, Connolly said the board is preparing to bring another transportation bond package to voters next year. It would include a major initiative to improve pedestrian safety on roads, bridges, bus stops and crosswalks.

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