Mecklenburg County Adds High-Tech Tool to Find Tax Delinquents

From The Charlotte Observer, July 16, 2012 by Carmen Cusido

Mecklenburg County is turning to a new tool to catch vehicle tax delinquents: cameras that detect license plates of vehicles parked in lots and decks across the county.

Two sheriff’s office vehicles have been equipped with cameras and software designed to read license plates and match them against a database of delinquent taxpayers.

When deputies spot a vehicle with unpaid taxes, they’ll put a fluorescent yellow sticker on the driver side window. Owners must pay delinquent taxes within two days or the vehicle could be seized.

A one-week test of the equipment in June got hits on 61 vehicles and 62 percent of those owners have already paid $5,576 in taxes and penalties, said Tax Collector Neal Dixon.

The database will begin with 75,000 plates and it is estimated that 10,000 vehicles will be added each month.

“We’re trying to improve the collection percentage for these taxes,” Dixon said. Typically, he said, 30 percent of monthly vehicle bills are delinquent.

By state law, a county tax collector’s office could take action from the first day a bill becomes delinquent. That could include garnishing paychecks and bank accounts, Dixon said.

Dixon said no special permission was needed to start the program because the state’s general statutes empower tax collectors “to utilize various remedies and methods to collect taxes.”

For the past two years or so, Durham County has also had a partnership between its tax collector and sheriff’s office.

Kimberly Simpson, the tax administrator for Durham County, said the collection rate for motor vehicle taxes was 87 or 88 percent. It is now at almost 91 percent, she said.

“Motor vehicle taxes have always been difficult to collect,” Simpson said. “You’re getting billed after the tag has been issued. There’s no real motivation for you to pay it. People tend to wait until after the taxes are delinquent and then right before they have to renew their tag.”

It cost Durham’s city and county governments $48,000 to implement their program, but Simpson said that money was replenished in back taxes after the first month and a half of the collection program.

Mecklenburg’s tax collector’s office updates its database of delinquent taxpayers three times a week. Vehicle information is added to the delinquent database once the due date has passed, and the county has sent a late notice and block notice – a total of five months after the initial due date.

The database is then sent to the laptops in the sheriff’s vehicles.

Dixon and Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Julia Rush said the software will not register any “hits” on vehicles without delinquent plates.

Nine deputies and two sergeants are trained to use the equipment. They drive the specially equipped vehicles anywhere cars are parked.

Rush said the county paid $35,000 for the software and the cameras using money from conceal-carry gun permit fees.

CMPD Cameras 

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has had some vehicles equipped with cameras for several years.

But unlike the sheriff’s office, police officers use theirs for criminal rather than civil enforcement, police spokesman Bob Fey said.

In upcoming weeks, CMPD will mount 95 cameras throughout the city using nearly $1.3 million in federal grants they’ve received, said Paul Paskoff, the department’s research and planning director.

The cameras will be placed on power poles and traffic signals, and will collect information like license plates, times and locations of vehicles. Paskoff said they’re looking for violations of criminal law – such as expired registrations, stolen vehicles, whether someone is wanted for a crime or whether they have a suspended driver’s license.

“This is a technology that helps catch criminals,” Paskoff said. The cameras, he said, “are a lot more effective in stationary positions rather than on a car that’s moving through the city. It’s automatic – it reads about 1,000 tags in a minute.”

CMPD will continue to use the cameras mounted on their police cars as well, Paskoff said.

A spokesman with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina said the organization is not opposed to the technology in general, but remains concerned that the data could be retained for months. Carmen Cusido

 

Published in: on July 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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