Bette Charlton spends 16 hours a week tutoring children in reading at her Mount Vernon home. She has been tutoring for six years, but it was only this month that she was told she was breaking the law because she didn't have a licence to tutor in Fairfax County.
Through various sources, including state income tax forms, the Fairfax County Office of Assessments has identified 2,000 residents who may have to pay a Business, Professional and Occupational License tax they never paid before. The county is notifying these residents now of their tax liability.
Charlton said she received a letter from the assessments office March 3 telling her she has to pay the tax, plus penalties for the past four years she did not pay the tax.
"I thought I was law abiding, I pay my state and federal taxes," Charlton said. "When this notice came to me out of the blue that I was violating the law and had to pay taxes because I'm tutoring children whose parents asked me to help, I was very upset."
Charlton said she charges $8 an hour for her tutoring services. She also teaches reading in Crystal City under a contract with the Navy, for which the county said she also would have to pay a tax.
"I don't have to work; I do this because I like to, because I'm asked to teach," Charlton said. "Somebody in the assessments office told me I'd just have to raise my fees and that's the last thing I want to do."
Charlton's complaints were raised by Supervisor Warren I. Cikins (D Mount Vernon). At his request, the Board of Supervisors Monday asked that the county staff report next week on ways to better publicize who must pay the county Business, Professional and Occupational License tax. There was no discussion of eliminating the fee for people like Charlton - part-time piano teachers, artists, lecturers, or dressmakers who work out of their homes.
Paul Smith, director of the division of personal property, state income and licenses in the county assessment office, said persons who make $4,500 to $5,000 a year in a personal business, whether they have an office of sell flowers from their front porches, must pay a minimum tax of $10 a year for the business, professional and occupational license. Taxes on earnings above $5,000 are graded according to the amount and type of business, profession or occupation.
Among the hundreds of occupations covered by the licensing requirement are: photographers, tutors, auctioneers, piano tuners, artists, rental agents, roofers, plumbers and those who own recreational facilities.
"The problem is that the county didn't have the minimum tax before last year, so a lot of people who didn't need the license before weren't aware they need it now and we had to notify them," Smith said.
He said his division conducted a check this fall on who is covered by the tax and turned up 2,000 persons to whom notices are being mailed to now.
"We just haven't made checks as often as we should have," Smith said, "and that accounts for so many turning up now."
He said the division previously made personal visits to those suspected to be liable for the tax, a slow process. Now the division sends letters to those they think are liable, a faster process for identifying who must pay the tax.
The division of personal property, state income and licenses watches for newspaper advertisements of people's businesses, studies the sales tax rolls in the county and investigates declarations of income on state income tax forms to determine who is covered by the tax.
"The supervisor of assessments in the county is a state employe and some state tax declarations come to us here in the county," Smith said. "We have legal access to information on state tax forms."