In the wake of an outcry from taxpayers receiving notices of payment delinquencies they knew nothing about, City Treasurer and acting Tax Collector David Olsen told the City Council Friday night that he plans to implement a quarterly notification system.
Olsen disclosed the plan as the council reviewed Mayor Scott Avedisian’s proposed $288.8 million budget and specifically the $705,447 budget for the Tax Collector.
“It’s been very, very busy,” Olsen said of the collector’s office.
Since taxpayers started receiving 23,500 delinquency letters more than two weeks ago, lines have stretched outside the door to the collector’s office, and there have been so many incoming calls to City Hall that sometimes they go unanswered. The letters represent a total of $13.4 million in unpaid taxes and interest penalties.
The letters listed an account number and an amount due, but did not contain such pertinent information as to whether it was an interest charge, or the period for which it was calculated, or the property that was being taxed. People interviewed outside the collector’s office Thursday said their letters came as a surprise.
“I’m not going to pay something that I don’t know what it’s for,” said one man.
A woman, who was on her second visit to the office, held a letter showing she owed $5.41.
“I’m wondering if they’re looking for a free nickel,” she said. Asked to explain, she said she believed she owed $5.36.
“I’m not averse to paying my taxes as long as it’s transparent and they’re accountable,” she said.
Council members said they started receiving calls as soon as the letters were delivered. In fact, Ward 8 Councilman Joseph Gallucci was one of those who got a letter.
He said Friday that, out of the eight calls he received and he researched, five owed taxes or interest payments and the other three had their accounts “corrected.”
Olsen said interest charges were dropped under the provision allowing a waiver to those who have made their tax payment on time for the last five years. But some council members wanted more details.
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon questioned how many of those notified had paid their taxes within 30 days of the due date and how much of the total in delinquencies represented principal and how much penalty interest. He also brought out the practice of extending the payment period to the end of the month in which it was due.
Olsen couldn’t provide breakdowns on delinquencies and he acknowledged there had been a “grace period.” With the implementation of a lockbox system, where payments are deposited within two days, there is no grace period.
Solomon asked if the letters were “a fishing expedition.”
Olsen said the letters were an effort to let taxpayers know what the city was carrying on its books, so that their accounts could be “cleaned up” before the next tax cycle starting this month. He said in many cases people had paid their taxes, but because they were late, they were assessed a penalty. When the next tax payment was made, a portion of that payment covered the previous penalty but then left the current payment short.
Before implementation of the lockbox – payments are now mailed to a Boston address where they are processed – personnel in the collector’s office often picked up on these insufficient payments and notified taxpayers. By running quarterly reports, Olsen expects to notify taxpayers before they rack up interest charges on payments they believe they made by the deadline.
Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla asked why the city should consider a payment late if it was postmarked by the due date of the 15th, noting that is acceptable when it comes to paying federal taxes? Olsen said the city does recognize payments postmarked by the 15th as being made on time, but there is no means of the lockbox processing system to do that. Furthermore, incorrect account numbers provided by taxpayers and single checks for multiple payments delayed the posting of some accounts last summer, which showed up as late payments.
In response to Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, Olsen said some of the delinquency letters pertain to accounts going back to 2012.
Between May 15 and May 30, Olsen said $1.1 million in delinquency taxes has been collected.