The Town Council heard a brief update regarding the status of tax sales, a new method of collecting back taxes that the council approved 4-3 earlier this year.
Town Manager Denise McNair reported to the council that $104,000 in back taxes have already been recovered from individuals who received demand letters from Attorney Adam Cohen, an expert in tax sales the council authorized the town to hire.
The Citizen approached the Town Council and the tax collector for an update about the tax sales.
Berlin’s Tax Collector, David Kluczwinski, told The Citizen that five of the “roughly 25” property owners who received demand letters have already paid their back taxes in full.
This prevents the tax sale process from beginning, Kluczwinski explained.
Mayor Rachel Rochette said the town works with struggling families who are making efforts to pay back taxes. “We really tried to identify those property owners that were delinquent and were not making an effort to pay,” Rochette said.
The town has full discretion in which properties should be subjected to tax sale.
“This isn’t about throwing anyone out on the street,” Rochette said. “We have very specific criteria for tax sales.”
The council has only authorized tax sales for residents who owe more than $10,000 in taxes and have been delinquent for more than three years, or who owe more than $20,000 and have been delinquent for two years, as the state recommends.
The town’s main alternative to tax sales, foreclosure, is slower, and more expensive for municipalities, and sometimes results in the municipality going to some expense to result in ownership of unsaleable property.
The town does and should work with struggling families who may have fallen behind on their taxes, Rochette said.
“At the same time, everyone who lives here has a responsibility to support the community,” the mayor continued.
Town Council member Brenden Luddy, who voted against allowing tax sales, responded to The Citizen’s request for comment.
“I am happy to hear that delinquent taxpayers are in the process of paying their back taxes, but I will always feel that this was a function of our town manager, tax department professionals, and our legal representation, as they have performed these tasks in the past,” Luddy said.
Luddy said that he can understand the town’s frustration in being unable to collect back taxes, but that he “felt that the Town of Berlin should have stayed away [from tax sales, and] therefore I voted no on this issue.”
Kluczwinski said that properties referred to Cohen for tax sale are “the 1 percent of property owners who have made no effort and no communication” regarding their tax bills after years of attempts.
Kluczwinski said that the town does currently work with some property owners on fixed incomes, or who fell behind on their taxes due to medical issues.
Property owners like these are not referred to tax sale, he said.
Instead, the town works with these property owners, who work out a payment plan with the town.
If someone misses a month of back tax payments because money was really tight, the town does not hold that against them, Kluczwinski said.
Kluczwinski said all property owners have 30 days to respond to the demand letter, and another 90 days to redeem the property.
After properties begin to be advertised for sale, property owners have an additional six months to redeem their property.