Edit: Since the original writing of this article, there has been a change to the Harrisonburg City tax stickers. Specifically, as of the 2012 tax year, the stickers are no longer required. Instead, they've been replaced with a local registration fee, which is even more ridiculous; instead of paying an exhorbitant fee for the administrative costs of a sticker, now we're simply paying an exhorbitant fee solely for the privilege of owning a vehicle in the City of Harrisonburg. So, this article's points still stand.
As any vehicle owner knows, an integral part of owning a vehicle is getting hit with a steady stream of fees and taxes just for the privilege of having personal transportation. And, fortunately, most of these expenses make at least some sense. But, here in Harrisonburg, VA, there's one mandatory fee that really bothers me: city tax stickers.
First, a bit of introduction to Virginia taxes, for those who don't live here. In Virginia, the tax code allows cities, counties, and some towns to collect a personal property tax on motor vehicles, trailers, boats, and other assorted vehicles. And, since it's an easy revenue stream, the vast majority of counties and independant cities in the state collect this tax (whether or not it's fair is debatable, but Virginia is one of the cheapest states to own a vehicle in without figuring this tax into the equation). So, since this is handled separately from any other vehicle-related fees, localities need an easy way to see which vehicles have been paid for. The traditional method of doing this is with city stickers.
Now, logically, one would assume that when the tax is paid, the taxpayer receives a sticker to replace their old one. And, indeed, this is how most localities that use city stickers implement them. However, Harrisonburg does things differently, running the city stickers almost like their own vehicle registration system. Paying the personal property tax is typically done in November or December, but the city stickers aren't replaced until March. And, the part that really irritates me is that in addition to the personal property tax, the city charges almost thirty dollars just for the sticker! That's almost as much as license plates/registration in this state. The only reason for the sticker is to avoid getting pulled over/ticketted for not having one within the city. That's it! It's completely arbitrary, and the fee keeps going up (used to be $15, and it may have even been less before that). Considering how many people live in this city, I find it impossible to believe that the stickers themselves and the administration overhead to sell them costs anywhere close to that.
Unfortunately, without state-level legislation to ban this ridiculous practice, it's unlikely to change. It's a per-vehicle fee that's completely arbitrary, and nearly impossible to avoid if you have a vehicle registered in this city, so they have no real incentive to stop doing it. Virginia's DMV already has provisions in place to link local personal property tax databases to the state registration system, so a person can't renew their license plates without paying personal property tax, and they no longer have to sell/distribute and enforce the stickers. Many areas have taken advantage of this, but unless Virginia makes this the standard practice state-wide (which I would readily support), I guarantee that Harrisonburg will one of the last cities to switch to it, if they ever do.