The city tax assessor and collector estimated on Friday that the department would need to correct 1,500 real estate tax bills because they failed to account for elderly exemptions amounting to $415.20 each.
“If there’s an error, we’ll fix it,” Kenneth Mallette vowed as a line 40 deep snaked out of the City Hall Annex and onto the sidewalk.
Some of those waiting had questions about exemptions, and whether they had been applied, but most were there to pay the first quarterly payment that was due yesterday. While payments can be mailed, and for a first time the city is providing envelopes to do so, many taxpayers prefer to pay in person and walk out with a receipt.
Yesterday Chief of Staff Mark Carruolo urged taxpayers to mail in their tax payments using the envelope provided, even though the July 15 deadline has passed.
“There’s no need to stand in line with people who have problem bills,” said Carruolo.
He said that, if payments are made in “a week or so, there should be no adverse affect [or interest added].”
Still another issue was raised yesterday: Some people have yet to get their tax bills.
Even with a bill in hand, it’s hard to know whether any exemptions have been applied. This also goes for motor vehicle bills that universally receive a $2,000 value exemption. Under state law, $500 of the vehicle value as established by the National Automobile Dealers Association handbook, is exempted. By the action of the mayor and City Council, an additional $1,500 in value is deducted. Combined, the exemptions are a $69.20 reduction in taxes.
Mallette knows of no situation where the Munis program that the city uses to compute and print tax bills failed to apply the $2,000 exemption, although it does not appear on the bill. Likewise, he has not seen a case where the program did not apply the one-time $6,000 senior exemption or $2,000 veterans’ exemption to a motor vehicle bill. The problem is taxpayers only see a motor vehicle value on their bill and a tax due.
Mallette said the Munis system has been his nemesis since he took on the job of tax collector. He said the city no longer has a programmer who can work with the system, so he is dependent upon the company to make the changes he wants. He said the city also went to a new Munis program and the city no longer has the source code needed to customize the program. Mallette said tests were run prior to the printing of bills and the exemption totals as calculated by the city and the program “zeroed out,” meaning they had been fully applied.
However, that wasn’t the case with all senior real estate exemptions. What Mallette has been able to determine is that in instances where spouses are entitled to exemptions and the name of one spouse appears first on the real estate and on the motor vehicle, only the $6,000 motor vehicle exemption was applied. The $12,000 real estate exemption was not.
The department is correcting the omission when brought to their attention. That process is tedious. A hard copy of the bill is made and by hand each total for each quarterly payment is adjusted.
As of Friday, the city had not developed a program that would identify the omissions and issue a corrected bill.
Well aware of the problem, Carruolo said the administration would be meeting with Munis and seeking corrective action.
“We’ve got some program issues and we need to do what we can to resolve that,” he said yesterday. He said the city is turning to “outside experts” to assist.
“We’re not able to handle this in house and that’s why we’re going out,” he said.
It turns out; Carruolo is one of those who are affected. Even as of yesterday – the day payment was due – he had not received his motor vehicle tax bill. At this point, there is no knowing how many others haven’t received their bills.
He said the deadline for payment would naturally be extended for those not receiving their bills.
“We can’t charge interest when it is no fault of their own,” he said.
Taxpayers questioning whether exemptions have been applied to their motor vehicle tax bills can get a good idea by comparing the vehicle value as indicated on the bill with the NADA value that can be found online.
While exemptions and a misprint on the tax bills stating that payments in full are due Sept. 15, 2014 (which should read Sept. 15, 2013) are problems, the new system of processing tax payments has been a success.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Mallette, “There’s millions in the bank that we wouldn’t have gotten for another couple of weeks.”
Following last year’s debacle, where the city fell behind in billing and processing of payments by as much as two months, the city is now using a lock box system based in Boston, which explains why payments are sent there. Payments are deposited to the city’s account within 24 hours with a roster of payments by tax control number coming back to the city by electronic file that day.
With the speedy deposit of tax payments and the extra interest income that means to the city, Mallette said the system will easily pay for itself. Equally important, taxpayers won’t be left wondering if their payment was received and when their payment will be withdrawn from their account.