Some taxpayers get incorrect tax bills

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WHITINGHAM — Incorrect tax notices have caused confusion across the state, most recently in Whitingham, where nearly 80 homeowners received notices that didn't jibe with previous years.

"My tax bill goes up and down," said Carl Jillson. "But I usually pay about half of what this year's bill is."

Jillson said he sets aside money each month to be ready to pay his bill on Nov. 1, but the notice he recently received caught him by surprise.

"I figured I had all my bases covered," he said. "I can probably cover it, but many people can't. How are they going to pay?"

But not to worry, said Almira Aekus, Whitingham's Town Clerk, Treasurer, and Collector of Current and Delinquent Taxes. Folks like Jillson should have received or will shortly receive a revised tax bill that reflects what they actually owe.

"Whitingham's tax bills were mailed out on

Aug. 1, and they did include the most recent download from the state," wrote Aekus, in an email to the Reformer.

Doug Farnham, Economist and Director of Policy for the Vermont Department of Taxes, said about 4,500 tax bills calculated with the wrong rate were sent out because the department got behind in its work.

"In any year we get a number of errors, where people might fill out forms wrong or we might take too long to review submissions," Farnham told the Reformer.

"This year were fell further behind and where we fell down on the job was we didn't tell the towns these were incomplete files."

"The Department has received reports from multiple July billing towns where homestead declarations filed by the taxpayer before April 17th were not accounted for on the property tax bills," stated a letter from the Department of Taxes to town clerks around Vermont. "We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused to both taxpayers and municipalities and acknowledge that it is due to a processing backlog at the Department. ... As is the case every year, many filings are incomplete, contain errors or otherwise require our review (rather than processing automatically). We do our best to review and correct all of these prior to July 1. This year 14,000 (of the over 175,000 annual filings) remained unreviewed as of July 1."

Part of the reason the department fell behind, said Farnham, was because it was looking closer at the filings from people who were requesting income sensitivity, or a reduction in their taxes due to their income. The department's review meant an increase of $8 million to the state's education fund.

He said the increase in revenue was because the department found people were doing "the math wrong" or not reporting all their income.

Income sensitivity decreased the amount to the state's education fund by $170 million in the most recent tax year. Farnham said if the department hadn't been looking closer at the filings, the education tax would have taken an $180 million hit instead.

Folks who haven't received a revised tax bill and are concerned the state might be overcharging them should call the Department of Taxes at 802-828-2865, said Farnham, but be prepared to be on hold for quite a while.

"Because so many people are concerned, hold times are between 35 and 40 minutes," he said. "If folks are willing to wait on hold to get a clear answer from the department, we will look closely at their accounts."

Aekus said if a town resident doesn't receive a revised bill in the mail or is still concerned, they can also call her at 802-368-7887.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.

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