City apparently losing money on vehicle registration fees

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 3/1/2018, 12:32 a.m.
Last year, the City of Richmond charged city vehicle owners a $33 annual registration fee for each of their cars, ...

Last year, the City of Richmond charged city vehicle owners a $33 annual registration fee for each of their cars, a $38 fee for each pickup or heavy-duty truck and $18 for each motorcycle.

Even though that was a record for the Richmond registration charge, each of those fees appears to have been a discount that saved vehicle owners money, but cost the city’s general fund an estimated $1.17 million.

It is unclear why residents are given a break on the registration fees that is still in place this year, according to city information.

Since May 2016, a city law has required that Richmond’s vehicle registration fee match the annual registration fee that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles collects for the state.

But that has not happened.

The state registration fee is at least $7.75 higher than the city’s.

Since 2010, the yearly state vehicle registration fee has been $40.75 for cars, $45.75 for pickups and $51.75 for heavier trucks, according DMV. The state fee to register a motorcycle is $28.75, $10.75 higher than the city’s fee.

Richmond’s vehicle registration fee has been collected by DMV since 2006, when a vehicle owners renew their state registration.

Paul Goldman, leader of the Put Schools First campaign, spotted the discrepancy as he combed through the city budget seeking money that could be earmarked for schools construction.

The Free Press confirmed that the state and city registration fees do not match.

Lenora Reid, the city’s chief financial officer, declined to comment. She referred the Free Press query to City Attorney Allen L. Jackson, who could not be reached for comment.

City officials are aware of the match requirement.

In 2017, city Budget Director Jay Brown advised Richmond City Council that the car registration fee had been raised to $33 to match the state. However, that does not match the fee the DMV lists online.

For at least 26 years before the 2017 increase, the city fee for vehicle registration had been $23 for cars and $28 for vehicles heavier than 4,000 pounds.

According to DMV, Richmond had 129,796 cars registered as of June 30, 2017. Collecting an extra $7.75 per car to match the state fee would generate a bit more than $1 million.

DMV also reported 17,191 pickup and heavy trucks in the city; a $7.75 increase in their registration would generate an extra $133,230.

If the owners of the 3,508 motorcycles paid a city registration fee at the state rate, the city would gain an extra $37,711.

Collectively, the city would gain $1.17 million in new revenue.

The City Council appears unaware of the discrepancy between the city’s 2016 law and the amount actually charged for vehicle registration. No council member has ever questioned whether the city was meeting the requirement to match state registration charges.