10,000 unpaid vehicle tax notices causes jam at City Hall


There’s nothing like a small slip of blue paper to get people riled up, especially if it tells them they won’t be able to register any car if they haven’t paid the outstanding city taxes on one or more cars. What gets them angrier is when they paid the taxes and they still get a notice.

Since 10,000 or so notices went in the mail about two weeks ago, lines at the Warwick Tax Collectors office have been 15 and 20 deep. On some days double that, and backed out the door of the City Hall Annex.

The exception was last Tuesday, shortly after 11. At that time only about five people were in line – the diehards – that had no idea when, or if, they would ever get to pay their taxes. The problem was, the computer system was down. While the city could have accepted payments and posted them when the system was back on line, the staff thought it better to wait. Fortunately, the system was up and running in a half-hour.

What’s caused a lot of frustration is that the blue notices don’t indicate how much in taxes is due, or for that matter, the vehicle they are due on.

“It’s got to be my boat trailer,” said Keith LaChapelle, holding up his notice as the line inched forward on Friday. His guess is that he probably owes $5 to $10 in taxes on the 12-foot trailer.

“You know you can go online and pay there,” the man in front of him observed.

“You know what,” LaChapelle responded, “I don’t trust online. I want a receipt.”

The man offering the advice, however, had also chosen to stand in line. He owns three cars and a truck. City taxes hadn’t been paid on the truck, so he was fearful that he wouldn’t be able to renew the registration on any of the vehicles unless he paid up.

“I just want to get it done,” he said.

According to those who handle the payments, some taxpayers have less than kind things to say.

City Tax Collector and Assessor Kenneth Mallette understands the frustration, he said, especially when taxpayers have already paid the tax. It’s understandable that the notices don’t apply in some cases, given the amount of time between compilation of the delinquent taxes and issuing of the notices.

“It’s a function of the state and the city,” Mallette says.

He explained that the city provides the state with a list of unpaid vehicle taxes in October. It’s not until late December that the state returns the blue notices. The city then compares these to its list of made payments, providing a tape to the registry.

Mallette said that initial tape knocked about 2,500 off the due list. Then after the mailing – every 10 days or two weeks – an additional 500 to 1,000 names are purged from the list as payments are made. Mallette said he has maximized the staff handling payments in an effort to expedite the process. Nonetheless, he said, “We did create a backlog of complaints.”

Also, those looking to make sewer and water payments are separated from the rest of the line. Mallette has also seen an increase in those payments since issuing notices to delinquent water and sewer users that their property will go up for sale on May 8 unless they pay or make a payment arrangement. A total of 2,500 property owners owe $3.2 million in unpaid fees. In addition, 1,500 owe $2.3 million in unpaid sewer assessments. These properties will also be listed in the May 8 sale if not paid.

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