Culpeper Circuit Judge Jack Berry Monday ordered county Commissioner of Revenue Terry Yowell to abate personal property taxes on two airplanes he had earlier ruled didn’t exist.
A visibly perturbed Berry, who leaves the bench today to take a job in the private sector and set up the hearing at the last minute, took shots at both sides before finally ordering Yowell to abate the tax records for the years 2008 through 2011.
Yowell had assessed Martin Lowe for 2008 through 2010 for two 1920s/30s-era planes that were destroyed more than 70 years ago but whose identification numbers still exist with the Federal Aviation Agency.
Lowe challenged Yowell in court, and Berry ruled in his favor in late December.
Yowell, however, refused to abate the taxes from her records and kept them there for the 2011 tax season. This set up a conflict with county Treasurer David DeJarnette, who had earlier this month refunded Lowe about $1,800 in taxes he had paid.
“My duty is to collect taxes and in this case I’m in conflict with the Commissioner of Revenue,” DeJarnette told the court during Monday’s hearing. “The [commissioner’s] records show that the taxes are still due on the one hand and I’ve got a judge’s order [not to collect] on the other hand].”
DeJarnette said that, under that situation, Lowe’s assessment would show up as delinquent taxes and there was nothing he could do about it.
“It is the commissioner’s job to abate taxes and my job to collect them,” he testified.
“I’m not here to referee between you two,” Berry said, referring to an obvious contentiousness between the treasurer’s and commissioner’s offices. “I could care less what the relationship between the two of you is.”
Fairfax attorney Alexander Francuzenko, who said he had been retained by Yowell just prior to Monday’s 9 a.m. hearing, argued that his client needed to take no action to comply with Berry’s earlier ruling, that DeJarnette’s rebate of the taxes was all that had been ordered.
Berry did not agree and asked, “When is your client going to abate the taxes?”
Francuzenko replied that Yowell would do so when ordered by the court.
Yowell said in an earlier newspaper interview that she wanted the assessments to remain so that the record would continue to reflect her actions.
Berry also took a shot at Lowe, who took the stand for 30 seconds to reiterate that the planes in question still did not exist.
“I’m still not convinced that your client is complying with the law,” Berry told Kris Spitler, Lowe’s attorney. The judge added that the FAA needs to look into the matter.
About the only person Berry didn’t have sharp words for was County attorney Roy Thorpe, who had represented Yowell at the beginning of the case. He was in court yesterday to represent the Board of Supervisors, who had agreed with the judge’s rebate ruling.
After pointing out that six of the seven supervisors were present “as an expression of their concern,” Thorpe would only say that “the taxpayer prevailed,” but that “carrying out your order has been obstructed by the commissioner.”
While Berry ordered the tax records for 2008–11 abated, he refused to order abatements for future years, citing the fact that the planes could at some point be built and actually exist as taxable personal property.
“This all could have been worked out and saved my client money,” Spitler told the judge, adding that now Lowe may have to come back to court annually if the planes remain on the tax books.
Lowe said before the hearing that attorney fees were twice the amount of the refund he received.
Neither Lowe nor Yowell would comment after the hearing. Yowell could appeal Berry’s ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court.