PARKERSBURG -Many antique car owners in Wood County are hoping a bill will be reintroduced into the state Legislature that would make antique automobiles exempt from property taxes.
Currently, antique cars in Wood County are assessed at a flat rate of $200 per automobile, but most county assessors in West Virginia value them differently. In Marion County, antique vehicles are typically valued at $3,500, one of the highest in the state.
In February 2009, House Bill 2775 was introduced by Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha, that would eliminate property taxes on antique automobiles, defined as any vehicle that is more than 25 years old and owned as a collector's item. The bill did not pass.
Photo by Natalee Seely
Jerrold Murphy of Vienna, a longtime collector of antique cars, stands next to his rare 1950 Chevy, which was featured in Collectible Automobile Magazine.
"The tax on antique cars should be fair and consistent across the state," said Delegate Dan Poling, D-Wood, who encouraged members of local antique car clubs to write state delegates and senators to express support for the bill.
"If you live in Wirt County and you have a 1969 Mustang, it should be valued the same in any other county in West Virginia," he said.
"On top of that, assessors usually don't have the time and knowledge to go out there and assess each individual antique automobile. For today's cars, we have a bluebook where we can just look up a car and determine its value. But an antique car is valued at what a collector is willing to pay, and that can vary widely," Poling said.
Jerrold Murphy of Vienna, a longtime member of the Pioneer Antique Automobile Club of the Mid-Ohio Valley, said the problem with taxing antique vehicles is that they are difficult to appraise fairly.
"Antique cars are worth what someone wants to pay. We always say, if you like a car, the price doesn't matter," said Murphy, who began collecting antique cars in 1998. "A person may have put a lot more money into restoring and repairing a vehicle than what it's actually worth. Antique cars can be very finicky. They can require a lot of fixing and painting and maintaining."
Vehicles registered as antique in the state have limits on when and how much they can be driven. For example, they can be driven on the weekends, but on weekdays they can only be driven to shows, car club activities, parades and service stations.
Murphy is the proud owner of 12 antique automobiles, but he said the possibility of raising the assessed value of antique cars in Wood County or in other counties throughout the state could be a deterrent for car collectors who would like to retire in West Virginia.
"West Virginia has a large population of senior citizens, and many of them own antique cars. When they want to settle down and retire, they might consider living somewhere else if the taxes on antiques are too high. It could have a long-term impact and keep people from moving here," said Murphy.
There were 11,512 antique cars registered in West Virginia in the fiscal year of 2008, and that number jumped to 12,884 in 2009, according to the Division of Motor Vehicles. With an assessed value of $200, the amount of money a collector spends a year on an antique vehicle in Wood County amounts to around $3.50.
"An elimination of the property tax on antique cars would be productive," said Murphy. "Our hope is to have a bill reintroduced and successfully herded through the Legislature."
Poling said he would support a bill to make antique cars tax-exempt, but his main concern is consistency throughout the state.
"Each county assessor has the authority to assess these cars at different values. My question is, where are they coming up with these numbers," said Poling. "How we appraise these vehicles should be fair and equal across the state."
"Last year the bill didn't pass, but I can see it gaining support this year," he said.
Wood County Assessor Rich Shaffer said he has no plans to increase the assessed property value of antique cars in Wood County and is in favor of eliminating the property tax on not only antique vehicles, but all vehicles.
"Antique automobiles, I feel, are difficult to assess correctly unless you physically go look at them, and I don't have the staff or the time to do that type of investigative work. You would almost have to go to the individual's garage and examine them to fairly determine their value," said Shaffer.
"On top of that, these cars are educational tools. They show the evolution and history of the automobile, and collections are almost like museums. When you have to pay taxes on these vehicles, it's a detriment to the collectors. With enough support, a bill to exempt them could pass in the future," said Shaffer.