Seventeen of the 22 people who should have received a letter from Moretown outlining how to apply for abatement of property tax late fees did not receive the letter.
During a public hearing last month, the Moretown Select Board told voters that a letter had been sent to 22 people who paid their property taxes late in 2015. The letter went out in February 2016. It explained how abatements work, cited state laws and included the forms for abatement. It did not state that there had been a finding of manifest error on the part of the town in December 2015.
The board of abatement, at its December 2015 hearing, ruled that there had been manifest error because the town’s tax bills did not make clear that property taxes were due in the town office by October 30 versus being postmarked by that date. Voters made that change at Town Meeting 2015. The 2015 tax bills did state clearly when taxes were due, but that language was not highlighted.
Of the 22 people on the list, one family sought abatement of penalties and fees and received it at an April meeting. The Valley Reporter could not determine if that family received the letter. In addition to the 17 property owners on the list who said they did not receive the letter, there were two people from whom The Valley Reporter could find no working phone number and one person who did not return repeated messages. One person said he could not recall whether he received the letter or not.
The issue of the letter, fees for paying taxes late and a recent vote by the town of Moretown to have the select board appoint the delinquent tax collector (versus having the voters elect that person) came to a head at a meeting on August 15, shortly after the town’s August 9 vote.
Voters, upset about the lack of information from the select board in the lead up to the vote, successfully petitioned the town for a revote. That revote will take place October 7. At that meeting, select board members explained that they proposed asking voters to let them select the delinquent tax collector after many people complained about paying late fees in 2015.
The board, in a June 2016 meeting, discussed asking the delinquent tax collector, Craig Eilers, to return the late fees and him refusing to do so because it couldn’t be done fairly. The board talked about being able to appoint someone who would accede to their wishes.
At the August 15 meeting, Sheila Getzinger, an attorney, took issue with the fact that the board abated the penalties and fees of two of the late payers, one in December and one in April. In both hearings the board of abatement found that there was manifest error. She said she would work, pro bono, to abate the fees for all the late payers. This week she filed for abatement for six of those late payers.
While 17 of the 22 people on the list did not receive the letter, a report to the town treasurer detailing who paid late, how much and the date it was received shows that there were four others whose payments were received on November 2 (when the 22 late payers paid as well) who did not receive a letter. Additionally, there was one person who paid electronically on October 31.
If the town allows abatements for the original 22 people who were sent the letter based on their payments having the correct postmarks, it raises the question of whether others, whose payments were received between November 2 and some days after that, may also seek abatement based on when their taxes were postmarked.
There were 16 people whose payments were received between November 3 and November 10.