It’s been sarcastically called the “Welcome to West Virginia tax”: the 5 percent assessment on motor vehicles registered here by new residents.

Gov. Joe Manchin is proposing to ease the burden on those residents by offering a tax credit, which is also designed to offer relief to county assessors, who say many people simply ignore the law, particularly along the state’s borders.

But some assessors doubt whether a tax credit will provide the necessary fix, and say doing away with the tax altogether might work better.

The so-called privilege tax is levied on new residents seeking to register their vehicles in West Virginia, which also puts the vehicles on property tax rolls. The tax has long been a source of complaints, since most vehicle owners have previously paid a sales tax in their old state, leading people to grumble about double taxation.

“It is very unpopular,” said Steve Dale, assistant to the commissioner of motor vehicles.

He said new residents unaware of the tax are often shocked when, in the course of getting their West Virginia license plate and registration, they find themselves faced with a bill that can run to hundreds of dollars, depending on the vehicle’s value.

“They’ve paid as much as 6 percent in sales tax in other states,” said Wood County Assessor Steve Grimm. “And now they have to pay a tax again.”

As a result, many people — particularly in counties along the state border — simply opt not to register their cars here at all, creating problems for assessors, police and the state highway division.

The proposal would work in a manner similar to the current credit for taxes paid in other states, according to Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow.

“You would not have to pay an additional tax in West Virginia” if the sales tax on the vehicle was paid elsewhere, Muchow said.

Although there are no exact figures on how many people live in West Virginia with cars registered elsewhere, Dale said the Division of Motor Vehicles estimates that the lost income from the privilege tax amounts to roughly $4.8 million annually.

In Hancock County, bordered by both Ohio and Pennsylvania, Assessor Joseph Alongi said his office has investigated roughly 1,800 possible registration scofflaws in the last two years alone.

“We have a significant problem,” he said. “It’s something we always have to be on top of.”

Assessors, charged with calculating the total amount of taxable property in a county, have recently begun trying out their own solutions. In Putnam County, some sheriff’s deputies and employees of the assessor’s office spent the first few weeks of the school year taking down the license plates of cars dropping children off for class in the morning. And Berkeley County officials announced a plan to hike property taxes on residents who keep their cars registered out of state.

Sandwiched between Virginia and Maryland, Berkeley County seems like the ideal location to welcome Manchin’s proposal, but Assessor Preston Gooden isn’t sure it goes far enough.

“I don’t know how much that’s going to help,” he said of the tax credit. Eliminating the privilege tax might be a better idea, he said.

Grimm wants the state to eliminate personal property taxes altogether, and said the privilege tax is a good place to start.

“If you come to live in West Virginia and you’ve paid a sales tax somewhere else, you should only have to pay a license fee to register your vehicle,” he said.

Even that might not deter some people in border counties. Alongi said car insurance rates are often lower in other states, and Grimm notes that several border states don’t include motor vehicles in personal property tax calculations. But, faced with potentially hundreds of scofflaws in each county avoiding the privilege tax and property taxes, all the assessors said they were glad to see the issue on Manchin’s agenda.

“I suppose anything the state’s thinking of doing to help would be good news,” Gooden said.

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