Fun and Games at the County Tax Window

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What one needs
to realize about bureaucrats is that they are true entrepreneurs
in two ways: (1) devising make-work projects to keep themselves
busy (but not overworked), and (2) inventing new ways to gouge El
Taxpayer Hombre, such that El T. Hombre ponies up out of astonishment
if not sheer aesthetic appreciation of their creative skill. The
whole thing can even be seen as funny — that is, if not too much
of your own hard-earned is disappearing through the particular bureaucratic
wicket involved on the occasion of your being so amused.

I have just
been through a two-month long tango with the State of Texas to get
my 1988 Corolla FX hatchback repaired, retitled, and back on the
road all nicely legal. Let me sing my sad song.

First, I need
to say, I do not drive a 1988 tiny Toyota because I love tiny Toyotas,
although I do a bit love this old baby because she has been so faithful
and so easy on repairs. I've got 145K miles on her, and have owned
her for 15 of her 18 years. She had 40K miles on the odometer when
she became mine. No, I drive it because my other car is a Bentley
convertible, and putting that one back on the road would, as the
British like to say, cost the earth. So Madame Bentley sits unrepaired
in the carport.

If you believe
that, I have a bridge . . . etc.

I was tooling
around in my Toyota in a Walgreen "plaza" a few months
ago, when, as I drew abreast of the Walgreen drive-in lane's exit
onto the plaza, a Ford Taurus wagon shot out of the prescription-window
drive and hit me squarely amidships on the passenger side. I had
no passengers. The young woman driving the attack vehicle had aboard
a friend and a child asleep in a kid-carrier. Said kid stayed asleep
through the crash and most of the whole hour-long follow-up, so
you see the thing happened at ultra low speed. Her car was undamaged.
Mine was stove in to the extent, it turned out, of $1.2K at Danny's
repair shop uptown.

After about
a month of waiting for the young lady to respond to her insurance
company, which she was choosing not to do, her insurance company
issued her a warning they would pay my claim without her OK, unless
she got in touch. Shortly before hearing that, I had heard from
her insurance company that I should have the car inspected for repairs
at their expense. Then, in another couple of weeks I heard they
would pay me something like $1,000 dollars and "total"
the car. State law permits them to do that if repairs exceed market
value. They also offered me a lesser sum, the difference, about
$500, being what I would have to pay to buy my totaled car back
from them. I accepted that deal, and so kept the car.

A few weeks
later, in response to an accident report I had had to file with
the state, I learned that I would have to apply for a "salvage
title," a curious appellation it seemed to me, since the title
I already had was simply a title to the vehicle, with no liens on
it. You might think that would be good enough to go forward on,
but you would be thinking wrong. Or so the sovereign state of Texas
said.

The State said,
if I had questions to check with the County Tax Assessor. So I did.
This is a large office with about 25 clerks lined up behind a sort
of long bar waiting to deal with problems involving motor vehicles,
of which there are evidently plenty (MV problems, that is). A kind
lady there gave me two forms to fill out and send back to the state,
with a small fee of course, I think $12.

Back from the
state came some more forms and a more or less incomprehensible cover
letter that sent me once again to the Tax Assessor. There, another
kind lady filled out the new forms, indicated where they needed
to be signed by myself and wife, and when I asked, "How much?"
she said, "Well, when you come back, probably about $70,"
depending on something or other, I think the age and value of the
car.

Back next day
with the signed forms to the TA and still another kind lady: "That'll
be $145.80, please." A deep blow to the solar plexus. I remonstrated.
Oh, boy, did I ever. But finally I quit, since it was clear (a)
the lady had heard it all before, and (b) was being pained and bored
beyond expression.

I just checked
the market value of my 1988 Toyota Corolla FX hatchback on the Kelly
Blue Book web link
. The value for a sale to a private party
is now $1,035. Something is a little out of proportion in all this.
Maybe the state assumes that the only people who can afford to repair
old cars are rich people. It's a fact that in two more years my
car will be a "classic" to the old motor crowd, and in
only seven more, God save the mark, it will be an "antique,"
and eligible I suppose for "antique" license plates. (I
will be 90.) Maybe they have me mixed up with Jay
Leno
.

A few days
before I paid that whopping bill to legalize my car a friend had
emailed me a version of a sort of "tax litany," that contains
the line: "Tax
his land, Tax his wage, Tax his bed in which he lays [sic] . . .
"
The thing goes on to list about a hundred or more
taxes that we are subject to now that did not exist 100 years ago.
But the near miracle of my tussle with the Ector County, Texas,
Tax Assessor's office is that all of the charges and fees I paid
are not even among the grotesque accumulation of taxes on that tax
litany.

Here for the
fun or perhaps the horror of it is the whole break-out:

Fees
Assessed:

TITLE
APPLICATION FEE

$
13.00    

TERP
FEE

15.00    

SALES
TAX FEE

0.00    

WINDSHIELD
STICKER

40.50    

REG
FEE-DPS

1.00    

REFLECTORIZATION
FEE

0.30    

CNTY
ROAD BRIDGE ADD-ON FEE

10.00    

AUTOMATION
FEE (LARGE CNTY)

1.00    

REBUILT
FEE

65.00    

Total

$
145.80    

November
23, 2006

Tom
White [send him mail]
writes from Odessa, Texas. He is the author of Bill
W., A Different Kind of Hero: The Story of Alcoholics Anonymous

(2003),
and the newly-published Lost
in the Texas Desert
.

Tom
White Archives

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