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SOUTHAMPTON CO. -- The stories are adding up all over Franklin and Southampton County from residents whose cars are getting the boot then towed away for failure to pay property taxes.

The residents are on the receiving end of some of the first 'gotchas' in a new program to collect back taxes. Karl Stewart's wife ended up stranded in the Wal-Mart parking lot after her car got the boot. To make matters worse, it happened at six o'clock in the evening, so there was no way she could go to the city treasurer's office to make good on her property tax bill.

'They said they sent me a letter. I didn't get it but that's okay. I owe the taxes. But it's how they went about it,' says Stewart.

Delinquent taxpayers were sent one notice back in March alerting them to their status and letting them know that their property could be seized if they fail to pay, according to the Southampton County treasurer, David Britt.

Towing started May 26th. The county contracts with Virginia Auction and Collections or VAC to use its technology to scan license plates to find ones matching delinquent accounts. That car is then booted, and if the owner pays the taxes by the end of the business day, the car won't be towed. Some residents think the method is a bit extreme, but Britt says he's within the law to tow vehicles.

'My responsibility is to the taxpayer as a constitutional officer to collect the revenue for our locality and we'll use whatever measure necessary,'says Britt.

He adds that many citizens are happy he's collecting the taxes. So far, Southampton County has collected $23,000 from residents who've had their cars booted.

But in Liz Mullins' case, her car was towed to the VAC lot just across the street where her car was booted. She still had to pay a towing and boot removal fee of $230. She owed the county only $12.60. It's money she says was not delinquent taxes but a late fee.

'We've been categorized as having delinquent taxes and we paid our taxes. We had a late fee balance of $12.60 not a delinquent tax balance,' explains Mullins. 'The crime doesn't fit the punishment.'

Britt acknowledges that the balance was a late fee for taxes that Mullins paid long before the towing program started but they were paid late. He says the fees are added on as part of a delinquent tax bill and that's why she was targeted. Still, Mullins says it's unfair.

Other cities with the program are Isle of Wight and Portsmouth. It's under consideration in Chesapeake.




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