WELLSBURG - Each year, Ron Sebeck pays the property taxes on his all-terrain vehicle - it's the law, after all. But Sebeck believes he's in the minority, and county governments all over West Virginia are losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue as a result.
Sebeck, who lives near Brooke Hills Park outside Wellsburg, cited a 2008 study conducted jointly by West Virginia University and the Centers for Disease Control regarding ATV deaths in the state that suggests the 147,000 ATVs that were titled in West Virginia in April 2007, as required by law, represent fewer than one-third of such vehicles actually owned by Mountain State residents. Without a record of title, county assessors may never know if someone owns an ATV unless they voluntarily report that information.
"It's sad that we're doing what's right and we're the dumb ones," said Brooke County Planning Commission President Mike Bachinski, who also owns an ATV and said he pays taxes on it, during a Tuesday meeting.
Sebeck doesn't think it's fair that he's abiding by the law when it appears many others are not. But it's not all about the tax revenue, according to Sebeck and the planning commission members who have been trying - to no avail thus far - to convince county commissioners to consider an ordinance establishing a decal system for ATVs.
Such a system that would make it possible to identify the vehicles, would help emergency personnel responding to accidents and go a long way toward curbing irresponsible ATV owners who ride through neighborhoods in the middle of the night. It might also discourage riders from tearing up private property and even graveyards, according to commission member Ruby Greathouse, who pointed to a recent incident where ATV riders knocked down several headstones in Franklin Cemetery.
Their idea is simple, Bachinski said - when you pay the property taxes on your ATV, you get a decal. If you're caught driving your ATV without a decal, you're in violation of the law.
"There's got to be a way to nail them. ... A couple people get nailed and get a fine of $100, word will start to spread," he said.
Brooke County Commission President Tim Ennis, who attended the planning commission meeting, believes he and fellow Commissioners Norma Tarr and James Andreozzi would have no problem passing an ordinance that was enforceable and with which law enforcement agencies are in agreement. But he wonders how effective it would be without a statewide system to notify county assessors when an ATV is titled, similar to what happens when someone buys a car.
"Don't put the blame on the state of West Virginia. ... The county commission can do what it chooses to do. ... ," Sebeck told Ennis. "If you don't do something, that means you don't want the money."
Bachinski said he would send another request to county officials, including hard copies of a proposed ATV ordinance, and report on any progress during the planning commission's next meeting on Oct. 22.