Making sense of tax bills


In many respects, this year is no different than others when it comes to paying taxes.

To start with, it’s hot. And hot weather can make for uncomfortable conditions and short tempers.

Second, many taxpayers are, as always, more comfortable paying their tax bill in person and walking away with a receipt and the feeling they’ve taken care of their obligation and they have proof that they did so. That’s understandable and, we imagine, will probably continue as long as the city takes over-the-counter payments.

But this year is different. This year puts the city on the threshold of a paperless process that could expedite recording payments and possibly result in municipal savings and reduce the pressure to raise taxes to maintain services.

Following last year’s debacle, where some check payments didn’t get deposited for more than two months, the city initiated a lock box system.

Mailed payments to a Boston address [addressed envelopes are provided for each quarterly payment] are deposited to the city’s account within hours. Almost as quickly, the money is withdrawn from the payer’s account. There won’t be any more waits for outstanding checks to clear to balance a checkbook.

That’s all a positive and moves the entire system closer to the dawn of fully electronic payments. Although people are making online payments through their banks, the banks currently issue checks that are sent to the city, which, at least temporarily, defeats the purpose of going paperless.

But, before we can leap into that future, some simplification and explanation are needed.

This year’s motor vehicle tax bills for less than $75 are confusing and a good point to start with. The bill says payments for less than $75 must be paid in full by Sept. 15, yet the payer is provided with a stub with your control number to enclose with your check that says you must pay it before July 15. Sept. 15 is the correct date and that discrepancy has to be addressed in the future, at least that’s what we assume people seeking to simplify things would do.

Second, apart from the fact the bill reads Sept. 15, 2014 [it should read 2013] is that a number of taxpayers entitled to a senior exemption failed to get their exemption. They should get corrected statements reflecting their reduced future quarterly payments.

Understandably, some people are irritated by all this and mistrust the system that provokes such confusion. It’s no wonder they want a piece of paper.

But, in the long run, paperless makes so much sense. Issuing sensible, easy to understand tax bills is the ideal place to start.


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