Tax Department Backlog Leads to Errors in Tax Bills | Off Message

Tax Department Backlog Leads to Errors in Tax Bills


Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom and Administration Secretary Susanne Young - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom and Administration Secretary Susanne Young
Thousands of homeowners were overbilled for property taxes in July because of a Vermont Department of Taxes processing backlog, the department told local officials this week.

Commissioner Kaj Samsom said that about 5,000 taxpayers were affected. In an interview, he emphasized that local officials were not responsible for the situation and said his department is working overtime to send corrected information to municipalities.

“We dropped the ball, frankly,” Samsom said. “I can’t put any better spin on it than that.”

When Vermonters list their primary residence in their state tax filings, that homestead declaration entitles them to pay the residential rate on property taxes. The tax department has to process the declarations and notify local officials before they send out property tax bills.

Samsom said that some of the errors resulted in artificially low property tax bills. "It’s more common that the revised bills will be lower, but there will certainly be instances where the revised bills will be higher," he said.

“Every year we have to process about 175,000 files,” Samsom said. "[T]hose have about a 30 percent error rate.”

This year and last, Samsom said, the tax department wasn’t finished manually correcting the errors by the time some municipalities had sent out their July tax bills.

Samsom said that those affected won't have to pay the faulty bills and can expect a revised bill from their city or town before payments are due.

The 158 towns that bill on August 1 or later will not be affected, Samsom said, because the department plans to finish work on the remaining files by July 27.

Last year, Samsom said, the backlog was smaller and the tax department told municipalities about it before July bills went out. This year, however, the department failed to tell local officials until mid-July that thousands of files remained incomplete.

Samsom was contrite about the lapse in communication.

“[T]his is very frustrating for towns that have billed,” he said.

Tax Department Letter to Municipal Officials Correction July 20, 2018: This story was updated to note that some of the bills in error were actually too low.