All Tom Desper wanted to do was register the classic Corvette he bought on eBay from North Carolina.
But that set the 74-year-old veteran and Corvette enthusiast from Long Beach on dispute that took more than a month with Harrison County Tax Collector David LaRosa over the meaning of a state statute that governs vehicle titles.
LaRosa and his office staff contend the law requires either proof the previous two years’ taxes were paid by the seller or the payment of two years of taxes by the buyer. Desper said that section of the law applies only to vehicles purchased in Mississippi, not those bought in another state and brought to Mississippi.
The statute section “Out of State Titles” says: “When a motor vehicle enters this state from a title state and application is made for Mississippi Certificate of Title, the original out of state title or transferable duplicate (replacement) title, properly assigned must be provided.”
Desper said he met that requirement.
“I had the bill of sale and title,” he said, which was all he needed when he registered other vehicles. “They said it’s a new policy. They said it has always been the law but they just started enforcing it.”
He said he spent 4 1/2 hours over two days at LaRosa’s office, but when the tax collector came to to the counter, he wouldn’t read the sections of the state code that pertain to titles.
He said he wasn’t the only customer who left unhappy that day. There were about 30 people in the office, some of them trying in vain to get vehicles registered.
“There were people throwing things at clerks, people crying,” he said. “One lady said this is the fifth time she’d been in the office and every time they wanted something different.”
He said he paid $120 more to the man he bought the Corvette from to get the prior registrations. The $120 was to pay the seller for the day of work he’d missed and a 2 1/2 hour trip to the North Carolina office that handles registrations. Then Desper brought a car to Mississippi from Miami. When he tried to register it, he said he was told he needed only one year of prior registration.
“Apparently, they can’t read,” he said. “Who am I supposed to pay the taxes to, North Carolina?”
The phone number listed for LaRosa on the county’s website was not answered after several calls over two days. At the office, a clerk said LaRosa wasn’t in and he didn’t respond to a message left with the clerk, either.
That doesn’t surprise county attorney Tim Holleman. He emailed LaRosa, saying he believed Desper was reading the law correctly.
“There was no response,” he said. “I’m the county attorney and I represent the Board of Supervisors but neither has any authority over the tax collector. He’s an elected official.”
Holleman suggested Desper turn to the Department of Revenue, the Tax Commission or the Attorney General’s Office for help.
Desper said he mailed a letter to Attorney General Jim Hood on Tuesday.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.