Confidence gap on tax bills


First quarterly tax payments were due yesterday, but as those who have read today’s story on the issue know, the city won’t be yelling “foul” and imposing interest if they get the check in another week to 10 days.

A grace period is not unusual. The tax collector has extended the first quarterly payment deadline for years. Don’t forget taxpayers can make payments in full without incurring a penalty up until Sept. 15.

Often the grace period is the only reasonable part, as the city has been late in getting out the bills. But this year there’s an extra layer of confusion – the bills themselves.

Neither the motor vehicle nor real estate bills itemize exemptions, including the $2,000 deduction in valuation on all motor vehicles. That deduction has been made to auto values as displayed on the bill.

The tax collector is confident that the deduction has been universally applied. What is also known is that not all other exemptions, most particularly the senior real estate exemption, have been applied.

The latest estimate is that 1,500 taxpayers failed to have the elderly exemption applied to their bill. That is being blamed on a computer program.

Some elderly have questioned their tax bills, learning that either the exemption had been applied or not. In instances where the exemption was not applied, the city is sending out corrected bills. That’s as it should be.

But we think more should be done and so, too, does the administration. The administration plans to call in “outside experts” to troubleshoot the computer program and correct the bugs so that, when people get their bill next year, they can readily see if the exemptions have been applied.

If not already planning to do so, we think the city should go the extra step of issuing corrected bills to those eligible for exemptions whether they have received an inquiry or not.

Let’s not forget, with implementation of new property valuations this year, determining whether an exemption has been applied is not a simple matter of comparing this year’s bill to last year’s.

Restoring confidence in the tax billing system is critical. Providing an explanation of what happened is a first step. Making adjustments for those due them – whether they ask for it or not – is next.


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