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Delinquent taxes are still delinquent in Putney

PUTNEY—The town’s delinquent tax situation has gotten out of hand, Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard announced at the May 24 regular Selectboard meeting.

“I think we really need to have a serious discussion about changing the policy for our delinquent tax collection,” she said.

Currently, a property owner has to be in arrears for two years before the town begins a tax sale on the parcel. Stoddard proposed changing the policy to allow the town to begin tax sale proceedings after a one-year delinquency.

In response to Selectboard Clerk Josh Laughlin’s query about the legal requirements for changing the policy, Stoddard said the Selectboard can modify it without a public hearing.

According to figures Stoddard shared with Selectboard members, the town is owed $182,000 in late property taxes.

Stoddard and her staff will continue trying to collect the late taxes, but if they can’t recoup enough by Aug. 31, it will affect the revenue portion of the budget, and this will reduce the fund balance. This could put the town in a deficit.

“The services we provide are great, but if people can’t pay for them, we’re in trouble,” she said.

No property owner should be surprised to find out their taxes are severely delinquent; Stoddard said she sends out multiple notices and works with those who are struggling to create a manageable payment plan.

But, she said, she has learned some people never open the letters, and “some people don’t respond until we say, ‘You’re going to lose your home.’”

Stoddard expressed concern for property owners who face extra costs because they can’t pay their taxes. “Some people are paying as much as $3,000 [in penalties and fees] extra by the time we put them [up] for tax sale,” and this doesn’t include attorney’s fees, she said.

The longer they wait, the higher the interest rate goes, Stoddard explained.

Notifying residents their homes are going up for tax sale is “the worst part of my job, but I also don’t like to help people get further into debt,” she said.

At the suggestion of resident Lawrence O’Neill, Stoddard will include a notice in the next round of delinquent tax bills, detailing scenarios of how much taxes end up costing if not paid on time.

The Selectboard took no action. “We’ll have to see how the next few months go,” Stoddard said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #411 (Wednesday, June 7, 2017).

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