WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Planning Commission's plan to make all-terrain vehicles more identifiable and collect property taxes from delinquent ATV owners would violate state law, according to the head of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles.
West Virginia code gives local governments the authority to regulate the operation of ATVs, and even prohibit them from being on city and county roads - but that authority does not extend to registration programs such as a decal system the Brooke County Planning Commission had been trying to convince county commissioners to enact, DMV Commissioner Steven O. Dale wrote in a letter to Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis.
Ennis relayed the letter to planning commission members during their meeting Tuesday. He wrote to Dale following an August discussion on the proposed ordinance, which would have required ATV owners to display a sticker on the vehicles they would only receive upon paying property taxes on their ATVs.
ATV DISCUSSION — Brooke County Planning Commission President Mike Bachinski leads discussion on regulating ATVs during a Tuesday meeting. -- Ian Hicks
A 2008 study by West Virginia University and the Centers for Disease Control concerning ATV deaths in the state suggests that fewer than one-third of ATVs in the state are titled, as required by law. Such vehicles often cost as much as a car these days, meaning counties around the state could be losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be funding schools, parks and other services.
According to Brooke County Assessor Tom Oughton, there are 44 ATVs registered in the county, but he said the number may be somewhat higher because the state reporting system doesn't always distinguish between motorcycles and ATVs. In his letter to Ennis, Dale acknowledged that, "unless an ATV is purchased from a dealer there is a high rate of non-compliance because of the lack of an enforcement tool."
"That enforcement tool is going to have to be created by the Legislature and the governor," Ennis said.
Being sent back to the drawing board was frustrating for planning commission members who are concerned not only with the revenue the county is failing to collect from delinquent ATV owners, but also with ATV riders who get away with driving recklessly, damaging property and causing late-night disturbances because they can't be identified.
"It's the law," Planning Commission President Mike Bachinski said of paying property taxes on ATVs. "I thought (the decal system) was an easy way to hold people accountable."
County Commissioner James Andreozzi said he doesn't like the idea of making people pay property taxes on ATVs, saying government too often seeks to tax anything people do for pleasure. He also doesn't see it solving the problem of irresponsible drivers.
But he acknowledged it's the law - and as long as it remains the law, he's willing to consider realistic ideas to enforce it.
"I'm willing to do anything that makes sense," Andreozzi said. "I want that money, too."
Bachinski suggested looking into whether a more simple decal system that doesn't identify individual vehicles but merely signals whether taxes have been paid on them would still run afoul of state law. In the meantime, he plans to draft a letter to county residents in an effort to educate them about the issue.