Manassas Journal Messenger | Some localities discontinue decals

It’s an irksome ritual requiring the suppleness of a yoga master, the annual occasion when you nearly pop your shoulder from its socket to stretch across the car dashboard and — careful with that razor blade! — scrape the old decal from your windshield. Then you repeat the knuckle-busting contortion in order to stick on the new one.

Really now, is all that huffing and puffing, and occasional swearing, necessary?

Increasingly, many think not.

Three local governments in Tidewater Virginia have done away with license-tax decals altogether, no longer requiring motorists to place the little stickers on their windshields. Sure, the governments are still collecting the roughly $25 decal fee, a tax on vehicles kept in that locality. They’re just not requiring residents to display the decal as evidence they paid it.

Now, other local governments are pondering the possibility of abolishing the decals, which motorists generally grumble about for two reasons: One, they’re a pain in the neck, literally and figuratively, to put on the windshield; and two, motorists usually associate them with the hated car tax. (Because local treasurers won’t sell you the decal unless you’ve paid your personal-property tax, a car without a decal might as well have the words “tax scofflaw” spray-painted on the driver’s door.)

In Norfolk, which last month eliminated the need for decals, Treasurer Thomas W. Moss Jr., formerly a member of the House of Delegates, said residents are overjoyed at no longer having to reach across their dashboards in late winter to affix the sticker.

“I’ve done a lot of things in my political career — I was once the speaker of the House — but nothing I’ve ever done has been so popular,” Moss said. “People are thanking me in supermarkets and everywhere. That’s all I hear.”

Moss said he was glad to get rid of the decals and admitted he found it tough to put one on straight: As the sticker nears the windshield, static electricity suddenly pulls it to the glass, almost ensuring it will go on crooked and nowhere near the legally required quarter-inch from the state inspection sticker.

“You ever notice that?” Moss asked.

Though residents no longer have to sport the decals, Norfolk still charges them $26 a year to keep a car in the city. In York County, which eliminated the need for decals last year, car-owning residents still pay the annual $23 decal fee. In Virginia Beach, which ditched its decals in 2002, the fee is $25.

In recent weeks, officials in Chesapeake and Suffolk said they soon might say farewell to their decals — but not the fee — as well, a sign that a reassessment of the need for the stickers could spread statewide.

Richard A. Cordle, treasurer of Chesterfield County, said he met with treasurers from Henrico County and Richmond several years ago to begin discussing the future of the decals, and all three localities are watching the Tidewater localities “with intense interest.” He said he believes local governments eventually will scrap the stickers.

“As I’ve told local officials, it’s not a matter of if we get rid of our decals,” Cordle said. “It’s a matter of when.”

Rex Bowman is a staff writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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