At least three Ansonia public officials received a signed document from the tax collector’s office saying they were up to date on motor vehicle taxes even though they owed money.
The authorization from the tax collector allowed the three officials to register their cars with the Department of Motor Vehicles despite the fact they hadn’t paid their car taxes in years.
The revelation — uncovered after a Valley Independent Sentinel investigation — raises questions regarding the management of the Ansonia Tax Collector’s Office and whether preferential treatment is given to people with connections to City Hall.
The three people who received a questionable green light from the tax collector are either City of Ansonia employees or volunteers on local boards and commissions.
A fourth person — who shares the same last name as Tax Collector Bridget Bostic — also received a receipt from the tax collector saying her car taxes were paid, even though she owed car taxes dating back to the 1990s.
The four residents owed a combined $16,666 in car taxes to the city as of June 28.
The people who received the tax clearance from the Ansonia Tax Collector’s Office are: Marion C. Bostic, whose relationship, if any, to the tax collector is unknown; Kevin Cegelka, a city employee and member of the Inland Wetlands Commission; James Hooker, an Ansonia Department of Public Works employee, and; Diane Stroman, a volunteer on the city’s Elderly Services Commission.
A key question still unanswered — how many other Ansonia residents have received a proof of payment from the tax collector yet still owe back car taxes?
What The . . .?
The Valley Indy began asking questions about tax payments in February, after two Ansonia Aldermen, at a public meeting, questioned whether public officials owed back taxes.
Ansonia Tax Collector Bridget Bostic repeatedly declined to comment to the Valley Indy on the matter.
The Valley Indy began submitting a series of requests to Ansonia City Hall under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
A city attorney at first wanted to charge the Valley Indy an exorbitant amount of money — up to $1,000 — for the city’s tax delinquency lists. Officials also initially claimed it would take a long time to research which public officials owed taxes — but the documents show they already collect the information.
A review of the documents eventually released by the city showed that 30 employees and city officials owed the city about $50,000 combined on all types of taxes as of June 28, 2012.
Several of those people owed back car taxes going back years.
The unpaid car taxes raised a red flag — how can they be driving motor vehicles if state law dictates car taxes must be paid before a car registration is renewed?
A state DMV spokesman said the three vehicle registrations were valid because the individuals provided proof from the Ansonia Tax Collector’s office that the back taxes had been paid.
Yet the same individuals were still listed in City Hall as owing back taxes.
On July 10 — after a series of interviews with the state DMV and no response from the Ansonia tax collector — the Valley Indy e-mailed Bostic and Ansonia Mayor James Della Volpe a number of questions about the matter.
Della Volpe and city attorney Kevin Blake met with the Valley Indy on July 11. The mayor said he would look into why the clearances were given to people who owed thousands of dollars worth of taxes to the city.
“If mistakes have been made, we’re certainly going to correct them. If somebody needs to be punished, I’m going to investigate and I’ll hand out discipline if I have to,” Della Volpe said.
An interview scheduled for July 12 in Ansonia City Hall between the Valley Indy, Bostic and Della Volpe was canceled after Bostic did not come to work for personal reasons, the mayor said.
Della Volpe then said the city would provide answers to the Valley Indy’s questions in writing.
The written answers had not arrived as of July 18.
The ‘Tax Clearance’
The “tax clearance” document is either a stamp on the back of a DMV renewal form or an Ansonia Tax Office notice (pictured) telling the DMV the taxes are paid and that the person should be allowed to register his or her vehicle.
There are two legitimate reasons why a tax collector would give a resident a car tax clearance notice, according to area tax collectors and DMV officials interviewed for this story:
1. The person’s taxes were paid in full.
2. The taxpayer is going through the bankruptcy process.
Neither of these reasons apply to the four people who received tax clearance notices from the Ansonia Tax Collector’s Office.
Tax collectors do not have discretion as to who receives a tax clearance and who doesn’t. Financial hardship is not supposed to apply to the situation.
“The state statutes are written so that everyone gets treated equally,” said Cinda Buchter, the former Derby tax collector who is the president of the Connecticut Tax Collectors Association. “We aren’t the judge and jury as to whether we feel sympathetic enough for you and not the next guy to give a clearance. The state statutes are written so it’s very clear that all taxes have to be paid.”
“In order to receive the release, they have to pay in cash and they have to pay in full,” said Denise Cesaroni, Derby’s current tax collector.
A spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management echoed those views of the local tax collectors.
“Tax collectors pretty much all follow the same rule: if a delinquent taxpayer pays with cash or a bank or certified check, they will issue a release upon receipt; if the delinquent taxpayer pays with a personal check, the collector will issue the release when the check clears,” OPM spokesman GianCarl Casa said in an e-mail.
While many in the lower Valley are struggling financially due to the economy, the rules on car tax receipts are clear.
“We need to treat all of our taxpayers the same,” Buchter said. “That doesn’t mean we are not personally sympathetic to their issues. It does mean we are not the judge to what someone is entitled to. They are only entitled to a clearance if they have paid all their taxes.”
A Closer Look
Why these four people received clearance from the tax collector while owing back taxes is not clear. Some owe taxes on several cars.
One recently paid her back car taxes.
The list as of June 28, with details:
Name: Marion C. Bostic (relationship to tax collector unknown)
Taxes owed: $4,839.90 on two cars dating back to 1997
Details of DMV Re-Registration: On April 4, 2012, Bostic re-registrered a 2007 Toyota Corolla. A spokesman for the DMV said Bostic had a stamped and signed notice from the Ansonia Tax Office that indicated she had paid her taxes dating back to 2006.
Bostic was unable to be reached for comment.
Name: Kevin Cegelka, city employee and member of the Inland Wetlands Commission
Taxes owed: $2,406.99 on a 2004 BMW X3, dating back to 2007.
Details of DMV Re-Registration: On Feb. 9, 2012, Cegelka was able to renew registration on two cars, with a waiver from the Ansonia tax office saying he had paid back taxes
on his car.
Attempts to reach Cegelka for comment were unsuccessful.
Name: James Hooker, city employee (Ansonia Public Works)
Taxes Owed: $6,933.04 on six cars — including two Cadillac Escalades — that date back to 2007.
Details of DMV Re-Registration: On June 24, 2011, Hooker renewed registrations on three of his cars. He had a stamped notice, signed by a B. Bostic, saying he had paid his taxes dating back to 2005.
Hooker did not return calls for comment.
Name: Diane Stroman, member of the Elderly Services Commission
Taxes Owed: $2,486.67 on two cars, dating back to 2006 and 2008. On July 2, 2012, Stroman paid off all back taxes on the cars.
Details of DMV Re-Registration: On Jan. 12, 2012, Stroman renewed registration on her two cars, using an Ansonia Tax Office clearance stamp on the back of the renewal form, according to DMV records.
Stroman said she had received the clearance because she was on a payment plan.
The Valley Indy also queried the state DMV about two other public officials who owed more than two years worth of back car taxes.
However, since the Valley Indy could not provide the DMV with their birth dates (in addition to home addresses and names), the DMV would not release information about whether they received clearance letters.
In addition to questionable tax clearances, the Ansonia Tax Collector’s Office hasn’t sent a list of delinquent taxpayers to the state DMV since October 2010.
Sending the list is supposed to prevent the delinquent taxpayers from registering their vehicles. The idea is to get the taxpayer into City Hall to pay the back taxes. Ansonia pays $3,400 a year to the DMV for the service, even though the city hasn’t used it since 2010.
Ansonia’s lack of action means there is an untold number of residents driving around the city with “valid” registrations — but they owe car taxes dating back two years.
“Tax collection is not a function of the DMV,” said Ernie Bertothy, a spokesman for the DMV. “We assist cities and towns with a system that is only as good as the information that is provided to DMV.”
The Valley Independent Sentinel e-mailed the following questions to Della Volpe and Bostic on July 10:
- How many tax waivers did the Ansonia Tax Office issue in the past year? In the past five years?
- What is the city policy for giving out such waivers?
- Is there any legitimate instance a tax waiver would be given out if someone still owes taxes to the city?
- Why hasn’t Ansonia sent a list of tax delinquent accounts to the Department of Motor Vehicles since October 2010?
The Valley Indy also asked what the city was doing in response to unpaid taxes by city officials and employees.
“In regards to city employees (who owe back taxes), we’ve sent them letters like we’ve sent to any other taxpayer, from what I understand,” Della Volpe said on July 11. “They’ve been hit just as hard as everybody else.”