Welcome back to The Conversation! It's great to be back with you.
There is so much to discuss regarding our current topic, the OMV registration error, and what is currently being done to address it.
Fortunately this first challenge is strongly connected to the next topic: the upcoming taxes and fees about to be levied against those in American Samoa.
Now that we've had some practice as a group we collectively can better address this MUCH BIGGER cost issue.
But let us first try to finalize this one.
We've had some interesting developments since we last met here; some were good, others not so good.
RECAP AND REWIND
June 30 is the day that you the public learned via Samoa News that they had been overcharged on their license plate renewals for well over 30 years.
The statute on the books clearly states that when a individual goes in to register their vehicle at the OMV the FIRST time, they are to be charged a registration fee as well as a fee based on the vehicle's weight. That fee is to be $12 per ton of vehicle weight. If your vehicle weighs 4000 pounds, that would be $24 in additional charges for the weight. (We'll discuss more about this aspect in a second; stay tuned in!)
However for ALL registration renewals, the person is only directed to pay a one-time fee of $32 in addition to a $9 inspection fee totaling $41 for the whole transaction.
People were understandably outraged that this problem had occurred and had not been corrected. There were nearly 10,000 views on The Conversation FB page, and at least double that on the Samoa News FB page as a result of that story breaking, demonstrating the public's interest in an issue that was this far reaching.
People now realized that their vehicles and those of their relatives had been overcharged in some cases for this entire nearly 50-year period, dating back to 1977 when the statute was written.
In addition to those private vehicle owners, commercial business owners' vehicles had been overcharged at a substantially higher rate than private owners vehicles based on their size and weight. (Additionally this issue of course dramatically affects those business owners with rental vehicles, or taxi fleets.)
Once this OMV matter was made public, we all waited to see what would be done about this as a group. Many of the public voiced their concerns that government officials would ignore the fault and continue moving forward with business as usual.
Others including myself believed that if people are given the benefit of the doubt, good things will happen and a resolution can be reached that benefits all.
So far, both views have been confirmed "correct", as both good and bad has resulted. The goal of course is that more good than bad is achieved, so we can all avoid the ugly.
The statute once read and used in its proper context by OMV has shifted the registration fees to be in line with the statute. Many who have gone to renew their vehicle registration have been pleased to spend much less than they have in the past.
So, this is great in 2 ways:
1) This change in practice is in itself an admittance to wrongdoing by this agency,
2) People have been thrilled to pay less than what they're used to paying each year putting Savings in the public's pocket.
One well-known local business owner shared with me that after the registration had been corrected, the vehicle they normally had been registering at a cost of nearly $350 was then charged the correct amount of $41. (You can imagine the refund amount that is due to come back to them for this and their other company vehicles is going to be quite high.)
On Thursday, July 13, Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompsen addressed the Fono and briefed them regarding the registration statutory matter. It was on that day that the Attorney General also addressed the Fono, and stated that no refunds would be granted, while jokingly thanking those in the public for "helping the government".
Rather than reacting strongly to both the lack of apology, and the insulting cursory dismissal of something that affected so many families and businesses, Samoa News and I chose to wait and see what else would be done before addressing the matter.
Thankfully, on Friday July 14 Senators Magalei and Maugututi’a took the lead on this matter and agreed that people were wronged and need to be reimbursed.
Most importantly, it was stated and agreed by the Senators and the current Treasurer that it was not the AG's place to decide whether or not refunds were to be issued. That is the case unless the Treasury Department led by Treasurer Tonumaipea required additional guidance from the AG's office to interpret laws and perform their duties. Both parties agreed the public is owed a refund.
So in this case, even the bad has headed in a good direction. However if that is to continue, we the public must continue moving forward, lest this becomes ugly. And so far — there has been no mention of the owed ‘reimbursement’ to the people who have been overcharged by OMV, this includes a process that would get the ball rolling, i.e. use the ‘proven’ overcharge as an offset to future OMV charges such as for registrations, change of ownership, etc.
NEW INFO: OMV BILL INTRODUCED
On July 27, it came to our attention that Governor Lolo forwarded a bill to the Senators and requested that it be approved. This bill requests that the tonnage be added to each and every registration, regardless of whether it is a renewal or not. It also designates 50% of the tonnage charged to each vehicle for Road repair and maintenance. (The underlined portions in the code are the portions to be amended IF it is voted through.)
This has not been finalized yet, but if there are to be changes made to the bill, that will later become law, we the public must act NOW!
This law will affect your money and your family. How do you want your money to be spent?
Do you want these charges to be permanent as they have been in the past (but charged illegally)?
If you agree to make these charges permanent, do you want 50% of the charges to be dedicated towards road maintenance and repair?
If I’m you, my first question would be "What funds have already been dedicated to Road repair and maintenance?"
I know that an amount has been designated somewhere otherwise no road work would have been done over the last few years. Do you feel that those funds been used properly? If not, why would more money being funneled into the same fund be used properly?
Have you contacted your Senator or Fono Representative about this? This is our money, and you and I have every right to specify how it is spent or if it is spent at all!
If the weight is to become a permanent part of the registration renewal, we NOW need to raise the question of the weight being utilized to generate these tonnage fees.
One can easily find the weight of their vehicle by making a simple Google search that includes the vehicle's year make and model. For example, you could enter "2005 Ford F150 Lariat Curb Weight" and that would give you a vehicle weight.
As an example, when I took my vehicle in to be inspected, I was told at first that my family vehicle weighed 7700 lb. I already knew that my vehicle weighed closer to 4500 lb. So that was an extra 2,200 pounds I was to be charged for, or an extra $13. I challenged their weight assessment and the extra money was eventually dropped after 30 minutes.
- What have you been told your vehicle weighs?
- Are you aware that all of the family vehicles I took in to be registered were said to have weighed more than they did, resulting in a higher fee?