Leroy Thomas thought he said goodbye to Ansonia when he moved out of the city in 2001.
The dutiful 77-year-old said he made it a point to stop by the Ansonia tax office to see if he owed money. He got the green light and moved to South Carolina.
But then, in January 2013 — some 12 years after leaving — Thomas and his wife, Kathleen, got a car tax bill totaling almost $500 for a Dodge Neon that was previously registered in Ansonia. About $350 of the tax bill was in interest alone.
Thomas was surprised, to say the least.
“Why wouldn’t I pay that?” Thomas said. “I didn’t do a midnight run. I didn’t wait until everything was dark and then leave my house.”
In fact, his son continued to live in his old house — and never received a letter saying taxes were owed on his dad’s old Dodge.
Thomas was hit by shrapnel from the last year’s implosion at the Ansonia tax office.
He is one of hundreds of people contacted by a collection agency as part of the city’s efforts to clean up the motor vehicle tax issues left in the wake of former Ansonia tax collector Bridget Bostic’s resignation.
“Because of all that’s going on, all of a sudden someone went through the books and suddenly now my name shows up?” he said.
A Valley Indy investigation last July revealed Bostic was giving car tax waivers to friends and family.
The waiver — a receipt, essentially — allowed them to register their cars with the Department of Motor Vehicles, even though they owed city car taxes, which is a violation of state law.
The receipt (pictured) clearly stated that a person had paid his or her local car taxes.
But city employees, city volunteers and the tax collector’s mom received the waivers despite owing a combined $16,000 in motor vehicle taxes — in a revenue-starved city that has laid off teachers.
Bostic resigned six weeks after the report was published.
The city referred an internal review to the chief state’s attorney’s office.
“We’re still waiting for the final outcome of that review,” Mayor James Della Volpe said May 28.
Click here to read all stories about the tax waivers.
For the past year, city officials have been reforming the tax office and putting some checks and balances into place.
The bulk of the tax office reforms come from two sources:
- An independent review conducted immediately after the Valley Indy story by attorneys Kevin Blake, Francis Teodosio and city auditor Robert Jaskilka.
- Stan Gorzelany, who stepped in as interim tax collector after Bostic’s resignation. The Board of Aldermen adopted his recommendations.
The Board of Aldermen also voted on its own recommendations, which mostly mirror those of the independent review.
How Are They Doing?
On Aug. 8, 2012, Blake, Teodosio and Jaskilka issued a report outlining issues raised by the article — and made a series of recommendations to right the ship.
The “fact-finding” report is posted below. Article continues after the document.
Here’s a list of the suggestions, (including some made by Bostic’s replacement) and whether they were followed.
Recommendation: Post a public list of delinquent taxpayers and make it available at a “location easily accessible by the public” in City Hall.
Did it happen?: Yes, but only recently. And only after repeated questioning from the Valley Indy.
City officials said the delinquent list was on the city’s website, but they were wrong.
A user could input names into a database on the city’s website to see if a given person owed taxes — but there was no complete, easily accessible list.
Also, if a person owed taxes, the city’s website didn’t reveal how much. Instead, it provided the phone number of a collection agency.
The city posted a delinquent tax list in Ansonia City Hall May 28, with corporation counsel Kevin Blake calling the delay an oversight.
Recommendation: Implement a policy to bar tax office employees from processing payments for themselves or family members.
Did it happen? Yes, but it’s not in writing.
Thanks, in part, to Stan Gorzelany, who was interim tax collector after Bostic’s departure, the Ansonia tax office has a book of policies and procedures to follow.
The Board of Aldermen approved the procedures in December 2012.
The new procedures prohibit employees from processing tax payments for themselves or family.
However, new tax collector Tammy Blackwell, said the prohibition on processing family tax payments isn’t written down within the tax department’s new policy book.
It is followed through an honor system, Blackwell said, and all employees are aware of the policy.
She said she is planning to create a written policy to match what employees are told.
Recommendation: Conduct an inquiry into the practice of employees Bridget Bostic and Tammy Blackwell processing their own tax payments, and have the Ansonia Board of Ethics review what transpired.
Did it happen? No.
This recommendation was made after the city’s internal review determined that Blackwell — the assistant tax collector under Bostic — had processed her own back taxes on two motor vehicles owned by her and her husband.
Between Feb. 24 and Feb. 28, 2012 — a week after Ansonia Aldermen publicly complained about city employees who owed back taxes — Blackwell processed payments for $2,336.37 in the delinquent motor vehicle taxes, according to the report.
“Although the actions of the Assistant Tax Collector in paying her own delinquent taxes seem to be legal, the actions do raise issues of judgment and ethics and potential for abuse,” the Blake-Teodosio-Jaskilka report said. “A separate and extended inquiry should occur with a committee composed of at least one municipal accountant with a charge to review the practice and put in place a protocol to forbid it.”
So what happened to the ethics review and a “separate and extended inquiry?”
Blake, the city’s corporation counsel, said the city never moved forward with the ethics review on the matter because it was satisfied with answers given in a private hearing on the matter.
“As soon as the report came in, I went over there and instructed Bridget, Tammy, that nobody was to process their own payments,” Mayor James Della Volpe said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re going to put a security system (including cameras) there. To make sure nothing like that occurs.”
Della Volpe said the ethics review may happen after the state’s attorney is completed with its report.
Recommendation: Immediately stop issuing DMV tax waivers until there is an established protocol to monitor all releases issued.
Did it happen?: Yes.
Previously, tax office officials would hand-write a release on a small blue receipt, which the taxpayer could bring to DMV when re-registering a car. Tax office employees might alternately stamp the back of a DMV registration form, indicating the car taxes had been paid.
Now, all tax clearances must be run through the city’s computer system, and printed on special watermarked paper. The printed receipt helps the tax office keep track of who is getting DMV tax releases, and who is issuing those releases.
Blackwell said the DMV has been notified of the new procedure and expects the new printed forms instead of the handwritten notes.
During May (the month when Ansonia started tracking the data), 283 motor vehicle clearances were issued.
Ansonia Says Pay Up
The most dramatic reform within the city since last July — the city government’s aggressive stance to collect long-delinquent car taxes.
The city hired Rossi Law Offices, of Smithfield, R.I., a collection agency, to start collecting on motor vehicle taxes owed since 1997.
Since January, Rossi has returned $231,696.90 in back motor vehicle taxes for the city through its collection efforts. That’s almost 11 percent of the $2.1 million that was owed in September 2012.
The law firm actually collected more money, but kept $19,822 in fees for its service.
“I know it’s going well because I’m getting a lot of complaints from people,” Della Volpe said. “We’ve collected a lot of back taxes. It seems to be more organized in there, but we still have a few reforms we have to implement.”
Leroy Thomas Is Out Of Luck
Rossi Law is the agency that contacted Thomas in January.
Unless Thomas can prove he owed no taxes in 2001 when he moved, Thomas is legally liable for the bill and the interest, Blackwell said.
She referred to state statute 12-130, which says taxpayers are responsible for their tax payments, even if they don’t receive their bills. Statute 12-145 says tax collectors do not have the authority to waive interest on overdue taxes.
“Unfortunately, our hands are tied,” Blackwell said.
The three bills Thomas owes are for a 1984 Dodge Neon. According to city records, he owes from 1997, 1998 and 1999. The taxes each year ranged from $43 to $51.
The interest on the three overdue tax bills totals $357.40.
Thomas said he wants to do the right thing — but doesn’t believe he should have to pay the interest on those bills.
“If you say my name is on the book, saying I owe these taxes I’ll pay them,” Thomas said. “I’ll pay the price I owed back then. But don’t tell me I owe 14, 16 years of interest.”
Della Volpe said he feels bad for people like Thomas, but the city is following the law strictly, considering all that happened last year.
“I’d love to help them out, but there’s nothing we can do,” Della Volpe said. “We have to abide by the letter of the law now, and the law says you owe 18 percent interest.”