Friday, December 2, 2011

Those Pesky Window Stickers...

Those of you in Loudoun County are familiar with the annual late September ritual of renewing the window sticker for your car/truck/motorcycle/RV or whatever other motorized means of transportation that you and/or your family own.

$33.00 isn't a huge amount of money to spend on a mandatory means of showing pride in your county, so you write the check; stick it, along with the little stub in the envelope, affix a stamp to it, and wait for 30 days until the new sticker comes in the mail.  When it does finally arrive, you take it out to the car, remove the old one (hopefully you remembered to fold back a corner on the one you put on last year, otherwise removing the thing is going to be a pain.) and stick the new one on (remembering to fold back a corner for ease of removal next year).

Some of you (the author of this post included) are procrastinators who wait until the last minute to go in person to do it at the Loudoun County treasurer's office.  So I got to thinking, how much does it cost us to administer the sticker program as a county annually?  Please don't flame me, I searched the entire 2012 Loudoun budget to see if I could figure out how much the decals cost as opposed to what they bring in but it wasn't in there at all, so the best I can do are estimates using similar items that I know what they cost.

General rough calculations including labor, are that it will cost the county approximately $2,000,000 to administer the calculation.  This is based on a lot of assumptions made by me, and a lot of estimations as well.  Using Loudoun's current population of approximately 300,000 the program will bring in approximately $10,000,000 annually assuming each resident owns on average one vehicle.  Overall, that means the program is an efficient use of county resources.

The big question though is this:  How much of that $10,000,000 could still be brought in if we eliminated the stickers?  My guess is by switching the decal fee to a "Annual Registration Fee" with no sticker at the same price we would still collect most of the $10,000,000 anyway, but we would cut the cost of the program by almost 100%.  The argument the county will give is that the sticker is necessary to enforce the property tax ordinance.

Why is the decal necessary to enforce property taxes anyway?  The fact of the matter is this:  it isn't.  The property tax system is entirely computerized.  Knowing what I know about computerized databases, it's easy to pull a list of people who are presently delinquent on their taxes. Our county has all the information they need to find the vehicle that is delinquent on taxes, and plenty of law enforcement and legal mechanisms for dealing with delinquent property taxes, up to and including repossession.

By eliminating the sticker (as our neighbors to the east, Fairfax County, and several other localities throughout the state have done) and keeping the fee, the county will save money and time for both employees of the county and residents of the county.   Therefore, the sticker should be eliminated.

Update and Revision History:

12/2/2011 10:02 PM- Correct 2 grammatical errors from the original post.


  1. Well, one thing to consider is the externality of the fines associated with the sticker program. They are color coded well enough for police officers to identify if the sticker has expired, which then allows them to place a fine so really it is $33 + percentage of population who is fined x the fine will be the next revenues, so based off the assumptions the cost may be $2,000,000 and base revenue $10,000,000 but after fines it could increase. So, an analysis would need to be made on the expected revenue from fines and if that exceeds $2,000,000 then the program generates a higher income than the annual registration fee

  2. make a very valid point. However, the fines get levied automatically when tax is late being paid regardless of whether a police officer sees it. Where we would lose revenue is on the tickets placed on vehicles from out of town. Those drivers are legally exempt from paying Loudoun County personal property taxes, most just pay the fine, buy the sticker, and move on to avoid the hassle of dealing with it.

    I doubt we collect the cost in the program in fines for expired stickers levied by uniformed officers, but I would have to research it more heavily, because fines levied by uniformed officers is really what we're looking for rather than just fines in general.