James City boat tax bills leave some at sea

JAMES CITY — Some James City County boat owners will be getting one more personal property tax bill this year than they counted on.

Boat owners who paid their annual personal property tax in full when they got their bills in June will get another bill in December.

That's because the annual total did not include personal property tax on their boats, even though the boat and the amount of personal property tax assessed on the boat were listed on the bill.

"A total of 148 taxpayers with boats attempted to pay the annual amount," said James City County Treasurer Ann Davis. "The half-year totals were correct."

Davis said those boat owners would get a bill in December, when the country sends out its second tax bill of the year, for only the amount of the tax on their boat.

How did the mistake happen? It's somewhat complicated.

In 2012 the James City County Board of Supervisors dropped the personal property tax on boats by 50 cents per $100 of assessed value, decoupling it from the rate on automobiles.

Davis said that meant the Commissioner of Revenue had to create two separate tax "books," files for personal property tax on boats and on cars.

"In an attempt to reduce postage, our vendor combined the boats and other taxable property onto one bill if both had the same account number," Davis said. "This was an attempt to reduce postage costs. First half bill totals were correct; however the annual amount stated did not include the boat amount."

Davis said taxpayers affected had been notified.

"Each taxpayer was sent a letter. Two types of letters went out. One simply notified the taxpayer of the error, letting them know that they would be receiving a bill in December and giving the outstanding amount in case they still wished to pay in advance," Davis said. "The other letter informed taxpayers of a balance due should their payment not be sufficient to cover the first half taxes, leaving a balance due. They were given additional time to pay. Of those, only a few had underpaid their first half balance."

Those are what an irate Last Word caller referred to in saying, "pay your taxes in full based on their figures and you will receive a delinquency notice because they forgot to include the boat assessment in the total."

Davis said only about a half dozen of those notices were sent out. And that taxpayers would not be punished in any way for something that was the country's fault.

"When delinquent notices were mailed last week, we had three taxpayers that did not receive a letter and received a notice. I certainly understand why they would be upset," Davis said. "Under Virginia law, when taxpayers are at no fault when paying taxes late, the Treasurer has the authority to waive all penalties and interest. For those boat owners that were impacted by the error, no penalty or interest was charged."