Wheel Tax Left Off Bills, Sparking Some Confusion
Confusion struck last week when municipal taxpayers in Clinton County were notified of a small tax that was inadvertently left off their 2020 tax bills.
Residents in Lathrop, Plattsburg and Gower received letters from the Clinton County Collector’s office explaining that the towns’ respective “wheel taxes” were accidentally missing from the latest tax bills. Clinton County Collector Michele Wells said that the software issue that led to the mistake has been corrected, and amended tax bills have been sent to those who were affected.
In the case of all three towns, the tax amounts to $5 per vehicle.
The situation left many residents asking questions about the tax – whether it was a new tax, where the money goes, and how the tax is applied, among others.
The name itself – wheel tax – can be misleading in this instance, as wheel taxes can encompass several different taxes related to vehicles. In this situation, the so-called wheel tax amounts to a municipal vehicle license fee and applies only to vehicles that are claimed within each town. A couple of decades ago, this tax would have been collected directly by the city, often including the use of a “city sticker” placed on a vehicle to show they were up to date (as was the case in Lathrop and Plattsburg).
The wheel tax is far from new. Lathrop City Administrator Bob Burns said that Lathrop’s municipal code enacting the tax dates back to the early 1920s and was last updated in 2001. In Plattsburg, City Administrator Greg Harris said their tax was initiated in the 1950s.
The revenue created by the wheel tax accounts for a fraction of local municipal budgets. In both Lathrop and Plattsburg, the money from the tax goes into the general fund. Burns estimates that the Lathrop tax generates less than $10,000 annually, against a budget that routinely amounts to $2 million each year. Similarly, Harris estimated that the Plattsburg tax generates between $7,500 and $10,000.
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