Stan Gorzelany started work as Ansonia’s interim tax collector this month and immediately began an analysis of practices inside the city’s tax office, he told a roomful of Aldermen and other officials Monday.
He discovered a record of “poor to mediocre” collection rates on motor vehicle taxes that didn’t even crack 90 percent in the last two full years of data available.
And he learned that since the late 1990s, the city is owed more than $2 million in delinquent motor vehicle taxes — a number which represents nearly a full year’s worth of car taxes due to the city.
Gorzelany shared his analysis with the Aldermen’s finance committee Monday.
The numbers reveal that since 1997 grand list, delinquent real estate taxes due to the city total just over $2 million, while in the same period delinquent motor vehicle taxes add up to $2.1 million.
To put that in perspective, the total amount of motor vehicle taxes due to the city for the 2010 grand list was just below $2.5 million.
And of the tax bills sent out that year, only 87.3 percent of motor vehicle taxes were collected. In 2009, the figure was 87 percent.
“I would consider that to be poor to mediocre collections,” Gorzelany said of the car tax figures.
“When you think that your real estate levy is 10 times what the motor vehicle levy is, to think that your delinquencies in motor vehicle are more than real estate, I was shocked,” Gorzelany said.
Issues regarding car tax collection were first raised in July, after a Valley Indy story reported that tax collector Bridget Bostic had issued car tax receipts to people who hadn’t paid their taxes. Bostic resigned in August.
The city’s overall collection rates for the 2010 and 2009 grand lists were 96.2 percent and 96.6 percent, respectively.
Those overall figures are at the low end of a range characterized by the Connecticut Tax Collector’s Association as “average to good.”
The collection data is posted below. Article continues after the document.
But the question of why the collection rate for car taxes is so low goes to more than just the tax office issuing improper documentation.
Among the other revelations in the Valley Indy story was that the tax office hadn’t sent a list of delinquent motor vehicle accounts to the DMV since October 2010, a fact Gorzelany reiterated Monday.
The city hasn’t been diligent about getting the information — referred to by local government as a list of “put-ons” — to the DMV, Gorzelany said.
More Than 20,000 Accounts Reported
Every year the city has two collection periods for motor vehicle taxes — one that ends in August based on vehicles registered as of Oct. 1 and another that ends in February for those registered afterward, he said.
After processing those payments, the city should immediately send a list of any accounts still outstanding to the DMV in order to prevent anyone who owes taxes from renewing their registration.
But for whatever reason, Ansonia’s tax office was not sending the lists.
“They had no record of any put-ons prior to that, and none since,” he said.
So, Gorzelany said, he compiled a list of such accounts for every year dating to the mid-90s.
“The first day I was here I did a put-on and there were over 20,000 accounts reported delinquent to DMV,” he said.
Of those, the DMV rejected about 400 because they are too old to be collected.
The city shouldn’t expect an immediate windfall now that the information has finally been transmitted. But he said keeping the state up-to-date, in addition to other proposed reforms, like referring delinquent accounts to a collection agency, would provide the city with money it has a slim chance of getting now.
“If it’s 40 percent, it’s 40 percent more than you’re getting today,” he said.
Click the play button on the video above to see Gorzelany talk about the issue in more detail.
The “put-on” suggestion was one of 19 recommendations Gorzelany listed in an “Interim Report” on tax office procedures given to the Aldermen’s finance committee Monday night.
First and foremost on the list: “No one receives a motor vehicle clearance unless all tax bills and penalties for vehicles in their names and owned jointly are paid in full. NO EXCEPTIONS!”
Other proposals include:
- Motor vehicle releases should be kept under lock and key after hours and when there is no one in the office.
- “Take-offs,” essentially the opposite of “put-ons,” should be reported to DMV every month to reduce traffic in the tax office.
- Notices of delinquent motor vehicle taxes should be sent quarterly. Currently none are sent at all, and the city had been relying on DMV to flag registrations even though
DMV didn’t have up-to-date information about who hadn’t paid their taxes.
- Consider using a collection agency for motor vehicle accounts delinquent more than a year.
- Consider filing liens against real estate for delinquent car taxes due over a certain amount.
- Consider wage garnishments for delinquent taxpayers where place of work can be determined.
- “Take a more aggressive posture” to collecting personal property taxes.
The full list of Gorzelany’s recommendations is embedded below. Article continues after the document.
In addition to sending updated info to DMV, Gorzenlany said the tax office will send out demands for any delinquent taxes due prior to 2010, notifying those who owe that the debts may be referred to a collection agency, which typically charge 15 percent on top of whatever’s due.
“Hopefully that will get people to come in and pay,” he said, adding later: “You’re going to have to be the squeaky wheel, and you haven’t been.”
Back To The Boot?
Given the scope of the problem, the city may eventually have to resort to more drastic measures, Aldermen said.
Alderman David Knapp asked Gorzelany what he thought of a “boot” program — which the committee had considered and rejected in March, judging it too harsh.
“It depends on how angry you want to make people,” Gorzelany replied, noting that when he learned of how much money is still owed to the city, he considered making a boot program one of his recommendations.
“Because the boot program works,” he said. “The moment the city of Bridgeport announced they were going to do it, they had lines out the door.”
But it won’t be happening anytime soon.
Aldermen Monday indicated they’ll wait to see if the reforms suggested by Gorzelany have an appreciable effect first.
“It’s something we can keep on the back burner just in case the other measures don’t (work),” Knapp said.