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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Confusion over city's new wheel tax gives some residents the runaround

Nick Jordan
Nick Jordan
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, February 17, 2017 09:01 pm
David Kelker wasn't expecting a hassle when he sent his license-plate check to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles last month. But thanks to a new city tax that's precisely what he got when the BMV returned his check along with a form letter. "Pleased be advised that you live in a county with a municipality that may charge a surtax or wheel tax in 2017," it stated. "The municipality information is required to be collected on all vehicle registrations. As a result, customers in the affected counties will not be able to renew by mail or phone.

"Sincerely, Bureau of Motor Vehicles."

 Just one problem: Kelker doesn't live in the city, and neither do several other Allen County residents who have experienced a similar snafu — or worse — in the wake of City Council's decision last June to impose the city's first wheel tax.

"Who's in charge? This is really disturbing. It's just an added layer to people not liking government. I can't figure out why the BMV didn't know this," said Kelker, a retired banker who resolved the misunderstanding only by taking the time, trouble and expense to visit the Pine Valley license branch in person.

"What about people who don't have the time I have? Or the elderly?" he asked.

Such questions surely weren't on City Council members' minds last June when they created a tax of $12.50 on motorcycles, $20 on cars and $40 on buses, trucks and other large vehicles that is expected to generate nearly $5 million per year for street repairs. But the tax has created a bureaucratic pothole all its own.

"The city is aware of the situation. We have received a few calls from residents who had concerns," city spokesman John Perlich said. "The BMV is also aware of the issue. We’ve been in communication with them (and) it’s our understanding the BMV is working on a software solution as it’s their duty to collect the taxes correctly."

Kelker's registration form did correctly bill him for the county's $20 wheel  tax but listed his municipal tax as "0" despite the letter suggesting his city residency. Adding irony to insult is that fact he would indeed be a city resident this year had Mayor Tom Henry's attempt to annex 22,000 north-side residents succeeded. As it is, Kelker's home in the Rothman Pointe subdivision remains just north of the city limits — not that the BMV seems to have noticed.

In one sense, however, Kelker got off easy. Allen County Auditor Nick Jordan said he has heard from about 10 people incorrectly listed as city residents by the BMV. Unlike Kelker, some of them have actually been charged, and paid, the municipal tax. At least one, Jordan said, has secured a $20 refund. But what about the others, or perhaps those who have been billed improperly without even knowing it?

"We've heard the state is getting new software, but we can't do anything about it," Jordan said. "The city can't do anything, either."

But somebody should, and soon, because this glitch could create far bigger problems than an erroneous $20 wheel tax bill or an unnecessary trip to the license branch.

Kelker mailed in his check in plenty of time to receive his new license sticker before the old one expired Jan. 31. Because of the confusion-inspired delay, however, he didn't get his renewal until Feb. 2.

"If we had been stopped (for driving with an expired plate), would we have received a ticket?" he asked.

Another good question.

BMV spokesman Dennis Buterbaugh said the state is indeed close to adopting a new mapping program that would allow residents or license employees to pinpoint address more specifically, but added "I don't know of any major problems. This is a new tax, and new to the BMV." But it's a problem all the same to Kelker, and the truth is countless Allen County residents have a Fort Wayne address without actually living in the city.

It's up to the BMV, which in fairness has improved its service dramatically in recent years, to end this confusion as soon as possible.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.


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