DMV may be overcharging Kern County residents with use tax

The Department of Motor Vehicles may be charging tax rates higher than allowed for some Kern County residents.

Assemblyman Vince Fong’s office is looking into two complaints of sales tax issues involving the DMV in Bakersfield.

At least one of the issues appears to involve people living in metro Bakersfield, but outside the city proper — including county pockets. If substantiated, those DMV customers could end up paying hundreds of dollars each in excess use tax.

“We’re trying to untangle it and figure out how this has worked in the past,” said Fong’s spokesman, Sam Chung.

While only two people have made complaints so far, “we’re treating it as if there are multiple people beyond these two people who are impacted,” Chung added.

The DMV did not respond to multiple requests for comment over a period of several days.

CHECKING THE RECEIPTS

Uber and Lyft driver Don Bledsoe lives in a county pocket off Olive Drive in northwest Bakersfield. He purchased a 2017 Subaru Outback in September in Boise, Idaho, hoping to replace an older vehicle that had racked up many miles.

Most items purchased outside California that are brought into the state are subject to a tax called the use tax. The tax is based off the home address of the person who made the purchase, and it corresponds to the sales tax for that area.

Because Bledsoe lives outside of Bakersfield, his use tax rate is 7.25 percent.

But when he went to the DMV to register his vehicle, he was charged $2,120, which is 8.25 percent of the $25,690 of the cost of his car.

He only realized it when he went back on a hunch and checked over the math with a calculator.

Hidden in the receipts appeared to be about $257 in excess tax.

“I don’t have any problem with the tax,” he said of Bakersfield’s sales tax. “It’s just that it shouldn’t be collected from people that don’t have it.”

Although not a world-shattering amount, it can add up.

“Can you imagine how many people in the county have paid that tax and not known?” he said.

MOVING FORWARD

Late Friday afternoon, Bledsoe said the DMV called him to inform him he had, in fact, been overcharged.

“It validates the fact that I was correct in my assumption,” he said.

He said the DMV should perform an audit and notify others who were charged extra.

The extent of the potential excess tax charges is unclear. The 1 percent difference between the charges would only be egregious on purchases of big-ticket items like cars or boats. And only county residents who purchased those items outside the state appear to be impacted.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s one person,” said Kern County Taxpayers Association Executive Director Michael Turnipseed. “He’s entitled to get his money back.”

Turnipseed encouraged those who have registered their vehicles with the DMV to check their receipts. But, he cautioned people who find discrepancies from getting their hopes up.

Navigating the bureaucracy of the DMV can be difficult.

“It’s going to be a lot of work,” he said of the refund requests. “And it’s going to take a long time.”

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