Residents owe more in property taxes after Richmond wrongly assessed thousands of vehicles: 'Humongous shock'

Posted at 6:17 PM, May 24, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Thousands of Richmond taxpayers will owe the city more money in property taxes than they expected to pay due to a mistake by the city's finance department.

Richmond resident Brett Carreras recently received a letter from the city alerting him that he was impacted by the error. But Carreras said it wasn't easy to read or understand.

"It was one of the most bizarre uninterpretable things I'd ever seen," Carreras said. “Whenever I get a letter from the city, I imagine they will be asking me for more money. But I still, at the end of the letter, have no idea what the value of my vehicle is, how much I owe them, if they owe me something, and what in the world it was all about."

The letter said that due to a billing error in tax year 2022, his car was "erroneously assessed." It said that the city utilized a "cost depreciation method" that should only be used when there is no "valuation in a recognized pricing guide" per "municipal code 26-458(h)." The letter added that the city was supposed to use the "Clean Trade-In value provided by JD Power Pricing Guide."

Basically, what that means is the city used the wrong method to assess his car last year and gave him a lower value than it should've.

Last year, Carreras said his 2018 Tesla was valued at $22,000. But the city now told him it should've been assessed at $36,000.

Carreras will now owe the city hundreds more in taxes on his 2023 property tax bill, because the city is supplementing the error by charging residents the difference on their 2023 bills.

It's not just Carreras. More than 13,000 vehicles were wrongly assessed last year, so those owners will have to pay more this year as well.

Carreras said he would've appreciated more of a heads up, as he's just now learning of the issue, and bills are due June 5.

“I think this will come as a humongous shock to those taxpayers, certainly when we have such a small amount of time between receiving this notice, no additional insight on our bills, but the bills are due in just in a matter of one paycheck for most people," he said.

CBS 6 requested an interview with Richmond Finance Director Sheila White on Wednesday, but a city spokesperson said she was not available.

Richmond City Council's Vice President Kristen Nye (4th District) said she has received a lot of questions from constituents about the letters and has been going back and forth with the finance department trying to get answers.

"A number of vehicles were incorrectly assessed the previous year. That, on top of assessments going up for personal property tax in general, is creating a lot of confusion," Nye said. "We know the 311 lines are backed up, and I apologize to residents for that, but please bear with us."

Nye said she understood citizens' frustrations as the letter that was mailed out contained too much "government speak," and folks may not know how to respond.

As to how the mistake happened and when the city discovered the issue, Nye said she has received no information about that from the administration.

“My office was not communicated prior to this problem coming to us via the residents, so I don’t know internally when it was discovered. I just want us as a city to be a little more proactive about putting things out there," Nye said. "We just need to be really clear and concise, because otherwise there's confusion, and even sometimes anger and frustration, and we definitely want to avoid that at all costs."

In a written statement, Richmond city spokesperson Petula Burks said the "unfortunate glitch" impacted 5.5% of the city's billing recipients, and she assured the current bills for 2023 are correct.

Those impacted were notified through the mail.

She added that some other factors may also be contributing to increased tax bills including a reduction in personal property tax relief and the use of correct assessment methodology.

Burks said that the city has committed to improving financing systems, and the department will transition to new technology that will make it easier to send bills and receive payments.

Meanwhile, Carreras said he hopes the city will also improve how it communicates with residents.

"Please, in the future, ask any city resident to read these letters before you send them out. Ask them if they can understand it, if they can comprehend it, if it's something that they can make sense of," he said.

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