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Fairfax County proposes automatic filing of vehicle tax returns for residents

The Department of Moto Vehicles office in Tysons (staff photo by David Taube)

(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) Fairfax County is considering automatically filing vehicle tax returns for residents in the future, potentially saving more than 70,000 residents money.

At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, elected officials authorized a public hearing for Dec. 6 to discuss a possible county code change that would eliminate a step for residents when registering a vehicle.

Currently, when a resident registers a motor vehicle, trailer, or semitrailer, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) notifies the county. Then, the county’s Department of Tax Administration (DTA) sends “a courtesy letter” to the resident reminding them to separately file a tax return within 60 days.

If the resident doesn’t register in that time, they face a 10% penalty on top of their owed personal property taxes.

Approximately 72,000 residents do not file tax returns for their vehicles in a timely fashion on an annual basis and are subject to the 10% penalty, a DTA spokesperson told FFXnow by email.

On average, that’s about 54% of residents who either bought a new vehicle or moved one into the county, they said.

If approved, the proposed change would eliminate that extra step. The county would automatically file the personal property tax return on the resident’s behalf within 30 days.

(Correction: This story initially said the DMV would automatically file tax returns for residents, but a Fairfax County spokesperson clarified that the filing would be done by the county itself.)

The amendment would also get rid of the 10% late penalty “if the vehicle is timely registered with the DMV,” notes the staff report. If approved, the change would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

“This proposed change will make it easier for taxpayers, as well as help them avoid unnecessary penalties,” the DTA spokesperson said. “Many taxpayers who buy a new vehicle or move one into the county don’t understand that they are required to separately file a personal property tax return in addition to registering it with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.”

The proposed amendment would also clarify that taxes on trailers and semi-trailers would be prorated based on when ownership changed during the calendar year.

Getting rid of the late penalty would result in a loss of about $2.4 million in revenue for the county on annual basis.

“The potential loss incurred is a small fraction of the revenues generated from the personal property tax,” the spokesperson noted.

In the current fiscal year 2023, though, the net loss would be about half of that since the change in code would not be retroactive, with January marking the halfway point of the fiscal year.

The adopted 2023 budget already reflects the potential $1.2 million loss, per the staff report.

Personal property tax assessments climbed for about 90% of local vehicle owners this year, prompting the Board of Supervisors to approve relief in the form of a 15% reduction in taxes.

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