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Decal debate sticky
Officials disagree on permanent decals

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

For Henry County Treasurer Scott Grindstaff, the county’s vehicle decals are a time-consuming billing headache in his office.

For county Refuse Director Mike Amos, they are needed for efficient, cost-effective operations at the county’s convenience sites.

So it is no surprise that Grindstaff’s proposal to exchange the annual decal for a permanent one does not sit well with Amos.

“I’d just like to see this discussion done with and move on,” Amos said.

In December, Grindstaff proposed doing away with the current system of annual county decals and replacing it with a permanent decal.

Neither Martinsville nor Patrick County has decals, and Franklin County plans to do away with its decals after this year, he said.

Permanent decals would be revenue neutral for the county because a motor vehicle license fee could be imposed “like Martinsville does” to help make up any loss, Grindstaff said. Such a fee could be added to every bill, or the personal property tax rate could be increased to make up any loss, he added.

“Each would be revenue neutral, which means residents really won’t pay anymore” than the current $20 fee for decals on cars and trailers and $8 for motorcycles, Grindstaff said.

“I think there are better ways” than annual decals, he said. “My whole issue is the annual billing for decals is not efficient government. We spend more time wrestling with these decals than we do with anything else that we do.”

So far, the supervisors have not brought the proposal up for discussion in open session, and Amos hopes they do not because “not having decals would be a hindrance to me” and employees manning convenience sites around the county.

Residents are required to have a decal to use the convenience sites, Amos said. He added that site employees check vehicles for decals to make sure people from outside the county are not using the sites at the county’s expense.

In 1997, when Amos took over the refuse department, a garbage pickup service and two full-time employees cost the county more than $1.4 million annually, he said. County officials began manning convenience sites in 2007-08, and “even with the sites manned, the budget was still less than $1.4” million spent in previous years, he said.

The refuse department also is putting people to work, according to Amos, who noted that in 2011-12, even with 20 full-time and six part-time employees, the department’s budget was less than $1.36 million.

In addition to the cost savings to the county, the manned convenience sites are safer and cleaner for residents.

“I understand that we need a decal or some type of sticker so” residents can use the county’s convenience centers, “and I’m all for that,” Grindstaff said. He noted that a permanent decal is a better alternative because it would “allow access of residents to the green box sites, and do away with the deadline to sell decals” and the work of trying to match decal sales with person property tickets, he added.

But Amos said he does not believe a permanent sticker would work well. For instance, what happens if the county resident with a permanent decal moves to Martinsville and does not remove their decal, he asked.

Grindstaff said that happens now. The difference is the decals last only a year.

Also, if Grindstaff’s proposal is approved and “I lost the decals, I’d have to have more people” to man the convenience sites, Amos said. That could mean additional fees because the additional employees would increase costs to the county and its taxpayers, he added.

Amos has been researching the situation in other localities. He said 75 percent of the localities with manned convenience sites that he contacted still have decals.

Others, such as Pittsylvania County, charge an annual “refuse fee per household” of $60, Amos said. That is much higher than the $20 cost of a decal. In addition to the refuse fee, Pittsylvania County residents pay an annual car tax of $38.75, he said.

Also during his research, Amos said he learned about a removable bracket that is put on rearview mirrors in some localities which have manned convenience centers.

He thought about a similar alternative, but discarded that after realizing that because the bracket was removable, it could be transferred to vehicles of “family and friends living outside the area” and they also could use the convenience sites, Amos said.

“Another thing is, our residents are used to decals” and requiring a current decal to dump trash prompts many people to get decals and pay their taxes, Amos said.

“Our department is a plus for” Grindstaff, he added.

Because decals also can be purchased at fire and rescue departments, the sales are a source of revenue for those volunteer agencies, Amos said. The fire and rescue agencies receive $1 for each decal they sell. “I think some of those agencies raise $3,500 to $4,000” for selling the decals, he said.

Amos added that he and Grindstaff are “working for the same county, and we need to be on the same page. I’d just like to see this discussion done with and us move on.”

Decals for 2013 were required by April 15, Grindstaff said.

Amos said authorities will begin checking for current decals on May 1. Those found without one likely will have to pay a fine that he thinks is more than $80, plus “they still have to buy a decal.”


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