Tax Collector/Treasurer David Olsen told inquiring councilors at Friday’s budget hearing at City Hall that 23,000 letters notifying taxpayers they were delinquent were accurate.
“Nothing went out in error,” said Olsen, who has been pulling double duty as Treasurer and Tax Collector since Tax Collector Ken Mallette retired last August.
Councilman Joseph Solomon began questioning Olsen on the notices, which had caused a stir when taxpayers started receiving them two weeks ago.
“I know we had an issue with a number of letters,” Solomon said.
At the time, officials had reported some of the letters were sent erroneously, but, Olsen said, “those were legitimate delinquencies,” sent for “a variety of reasons.”
Olsen said some of the accounts in question were delinquent due to interest they’d been charged in previous years, and some were simply late. An unofficial grace period applied in previous years was not recognized this year, which put some accounts in delinquent status unexpectedly on the taxpayer’s part, Solomon mentioned.
About one quarter of the 23,000 accounts were eligible for interest waivers, since they hadn’t accrued interest from late payments in the previous five years, Olsen said. That eligibility for a waiver resulted in no late charges for those accounts, but they were delinquent, he said.
Olsen said since the letters were delivered May 15, the city has received about $1.1 million in delinquent bills. Though he said he couldn’t be certain the letters had anything to do with the collection, May is a typically slow time of year for tax collection.
When Solomon asked if there were a way to avoid sending delinquency letters to taxpayers who are due waivers next time, Olsen said that would’ve been difficult this time, since there were so many delinquent accounts.
As for the future, Olsen said, “Well, I will run a delinquency report at the end of each quarter to see where people are,” so he can catch delinquent accounts in manageable numbers.
Outside Council chambers, Olsen said he was on an airplane when the letters caused the uproar, and he wasn’t available to speak with reporters or officials at the time. He said that though the reaction to the letters surprised him, he thought it was important to notify taxpayers about their accounts before the next billing cycle began. That way, he said, people would be able to clear up their accounts ahead of time, instead of letting them rack up interest.
“You can’t have that. People need to know,” Olsen said.
When asked if the accounts had been well managed by the previous collector, Olsen replied: “I don’t think they were.”
Hearings on Mayor Scott Avedisian’s proposed $288 million budget continued Saturday morning at City Hall at 8:30 a.m., and finished later that day. The Council will meet again for an anticipated vote on the budget Monday, 5:30 p.m. following a 5 p.m. executive session at City Hall.
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