One year after glitches and confusion marred the county's transition to a new system for handling its personal property taxes and decals, Prince William this week began sending out its second cycle of bills, promising that residents should find this year's process smoother.
County officials said Friday that after improving customer service and working the kinks out of the new computer system, they expect residents to have an easier time paying their bills by Oct. 5. Last year's transition to the new system caused some growing pains: some wrong decals were sent out, while others were sent out unnecessarily; residents were overcharged for their decal fees; and the county pushed back the October payment deadline by a month to give more time to residents frustrated by the different billing process.
Instead of last year's delays, they said, taxpayers will experience improved efficiency in shorter lines and less time on "hold" with phone questions.
"We do have a major effort here to improve the customer satisfaction . . . of our services," said County Executive Bern Ewert.
The county sent out the first of 210,000 bills Thursday. The first chunk of mailings are going out without decals because they are for a subset of taxpayers, such as businesses and delinquent taxpayers. But most residents' bills will be sent out next week and will pair decals along with personal property tax bills as part of the streamlining effort intended to make collection faster and simpler.
This year, as part of Gov. James S. Gilmore III's five-year plan to eliminate most car taxes, residents will see a reduction on their personal property bill--last year's reduction was only rebated after residents had paid their bills, and Prince William County's rebates were delayed because of computer problems.
For years, paying personal property taxes and getting vehicle decals translated into long lines at county offices. But last April, that changed.
"The lines went out of the building and around the building," said Finance Director Chris Martino. "We eliminated the line."
Last year served as the transition period between the new system and the old, under which citizens paid their car taxes by December and were required to display their decals by the following April. Now residents must display their decals by Nov. 15.
Partly in response to a flurry of calls last year from bewildered citizens asking questions about the new system, Prince William has more than doubled the resources of its call center with 35 staff members and 65 phone lines available.