They say the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. For some Wilton residents last week, the tax certainty got a little uncertain when they unexpectedly received delinquency notices for not paying their taxes on time, even though they said they had paid promptly.
Property taxes are due twice a year, on July 1 and Jan. 1 annually. Taxpayers have a 30-day grace period before incurring interest at a rate of 18% per year. For the July 1 payment, the last day to postmark a payment sent by mail is Aug. 2.
The state statutes regarding timely payment of taxes are very strict, and the town has to follow the deadlines exactly.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said she and town employees in the tax department began hearing from a few dozen Wilton residents late last week who said they received delinquency notices despite having mailed in their tax payments on time, either by sending checks directly or having their banks issue checks to the town.
In typical years, it’s not unusual for the town to experience some delinquencies, either through taxpayer non-payment or tardiness, even by a few days.
“We have people who will come in and say, ‘I mailed my check on Aug. 2, but the post office didn’t cancel it. You know, it shows I mailed it on Aug. 3 or maybe Aug. 4, but I really put in the mailbox on Aug. 2.’ That happens every year, but it has to be postmarked Aug. 2,” Vanderslice told GOOD Morning Wilton.
But town employees have determined that there has been a much higher than usual number of delinquent taxpayers, as well as a higher number of people reporting they did pay their tax bills on time — even presenting proof.
“We had one person who sent [their payment] ‘return receipt requested,’ so they actually had the Post Office documentation that it had been sent and received, but it wasn’t posted. Some of the people we’re hearing from put it to pay through the bank. The bank said it will be paid, say by July 17 and the payment hasn’t hit yet. So the bank [has] proof that they sent it out,” Vanderslice said.
The town uses a lockbox service provided by a bank to process tax payments sent to the town. Town officials immediately turned to the lockbox bank to request a detailed audit of its step-by-step processes concerning Wilton accounts, which is currently happening. Vanderslice is hoping for more answers from that bank later Tuesday, Sept. 21.
Vanderslice said the unusually high number of delinquencies and discrepancies is not only something Wilton is experiencing — several other municipalities have reported the same issue. Tax officials and town CFOs are communicating with one another, she added.
Connecticut state statutes say that municipalities can only waive interest charges if an error has occurred within the collection system.
The town is investigating other avenues and possible issues in the chain of the collection process, with audits being conducted internally as well as at the post office and mortgage companies.
“I’m just going to give an [hypothetical] example, the bank discovers that they had a stack of checks or a stack of mail that they hadn’t processed, that came in prior to the due date. Then the bank will process those, we’ll know who it is, and none of those people will be subject to interest and penalty. All of that will be waived. If the Post Office came forward and said, ‘Oh, we have a bag of mail we forgot to deliver.’ We’re looking to see if there’s something like that that’s caused this, and then what’s the most efficient way of identifying who those people are and making the appropriate adjustments for those people,” Vanderslice explained.
Last week, she wrote to town residents that “Town employees searched the Town’s safe and all areas in the department to ensure no unprocessed checks were being held in Town Hall. There were none. CFO Anne Kelly-Lenz performed a second check herself. As undeliverable mail is returned to us, we have been searching for any new mail and are reaching out to the post office for their assistance to locate any undelivered mail addressed to the Town of Wilton.”
Officials are asking individuals to keep any paper trail and proof of payment if they have experienced a discrepancy in their own situation. The town is collecting names of individuals who contact the tax office and Vanderslice is asking people to be a bit patient to allow the town to get to the bottom of the problem. And to abide by the state statutes, the town is obligated to get it figured out by the end of September.
“We’re hoping that we can solve a lot of this by finding something specific that caused it this year. Then we’ll go through anything that’s remaining. But the state law is very tight in its definition of what is acceptable, it’s very limited, and we don’t have flexibility. But our sense is this is something specific and we need to identify it. What I’m telling people who are contacting me now is, let us finish that, get this process with the bank completed,” she said.