Thanks to a joint effort between residents and town officials, at least 383 names and more than $2.3 million will likely be removed from an unreliable list of delinquent taxpayers compiled by a disgraced former tax collector.
By collecting mortgage refinance documents, escrow payment receipts, 1099 documents and other forms of payment proof from residents over the past five months, the tax collector’s office has begun the arduous process of cleaning up town tax records and attempting to clear names of honest people who paid their fair share but never got credit for it on town records.
for a declaratory judgement that would give them authority to officially remove those 383 names from the delinquency list. The document was pieced together over several years by former tax collector , who has been arrested for allegedly stealing from the office over several years. And, town leaders want the court to tell them how to legally remove the names of several other people whom they can prove don’t deserve to be on the delinquent list.
That is what First Selectman George Temple and Town Attorney Kevin Condon said Tuesday at during a meeting with local reporters regarding the now-infamous tax document that lists more than 2,300 people as owing more than $10.3 million to the town. That list includes interest and penalties.
“This is a totally unreliable list and there were a lot of people put on this list unjustly,” said Temple, who released the list in January in an attempt to figure out who doesn't belong on it and try to build a better legal case against Guillet. “For those people, I really am sorry that their names had to be dragged through this situation. However, I don’t think I had any choice."
One of the residents Temple apologized to on behalf of the town was Lorraine Tirella, 47, who has lived in Oxford since 1993. She says she's paid her taxes on time and in full every year and takes umbrage to the fact that her name is shown as delinquent in town records. The list shows that she didn’t pay half of her real estate taxes in 1997, but she knows she did.
Tirella's bank, however, has told her that in order to get a copy of her payment documentation for that year, she would have to fork over a couple hundred dollars, she said. She said many of her friends are in the same situation, and she attended Tuesday’s press conference to express her frustration over the issue and to find out what the town was doing for people like her.
Many of the people on this list are honest taxpayers, Tirella said. “They are not deadbeats by any means."
Following Tuesday's meeting, in which officials told her they are doing all they can to clear names like hers from delinquent records, Tirella said she feels better because "I just don't want all of the burden (of proof of payment) to be on the taxpayer."
Temple, Condon and current Tax Collector Cayenne Spremullo told Tirella that part of what they are asking the court is how to deal with situations like the one she faced.
Spremullo added that even her own name is on the list of being delinquent. Like all others on the list, she would never have known if the document were not made public, she said.
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The current tax collector is asking residents for a little bit of patience and understanding in dealing with this situation and said most people have been willing to work with the town to clear their names.
“This is a joint effort,” she said. “If we could actually rely on the records we have, we would never ask people to provide us proof of payment. We know what a burden it is."
If people have some kind of payment proof, they are encouraged to speak with the tax collector’s office about it.
Meanwhile, town officials will wait to receive a judge’s ruling, which could come months from now. Temple said the town hopes the court will give selectmen authority to sit down with the list and cross off names of people who paid.
"I only know how to do one thing and that's to be professional," he said. "I don't think there is any other way to approach this, and I feel that in the past a lot of these things were overlooked. We cannot overlook this. We have to have the courage to go forward and that's what we're doing here.
"I don't want to dwell on the past," he said. "From this day forward, we're going to endeavor to run our tax office in a professional and reliable manner."