A list of people who may or may not be delinquent on their taxes that the town publicized on Tuesday has raised the ire of dozens of residents who say their reputations are being tarnished unnecessarily.
Town officials announced during a news conference on Tuesday that they have identified more than $10.2 million in back taxes owed by almost 2,000 taxpayers. The list of delinquencies, which includes what would be owed in interest and penalties, includes people who may have paid but whose names still show up on the list because of bad past practices that town officials say was orchestrated by a former tax collector who has been arrested and accused of stealing at least $670,000 from the town.
Officials believe Karen Guillet, the former tax collector, did not credit people’s accounts even though they paid so she could hide her elaborate embezzlement scheme. Therefore, several people’s accounts show they have unpaid taxes even though they indeed paid their fair share.
Some of those residents, former residents and business owners brought their concerns straight to the source on Wednesday morning. They lined up outside of the tax office at Town Hall and demanded answers about how their names got on the list and how the situation can be rectified.
Some were so angry and caused such a fuss that town officials called police (nobody was arrested). A state trooper was stationed outside of the tax collector’s office from 9:30 a.m. on and another is expected to be at tonight’s Board of Selectmen meeting at 7:30 in case anyone gets overzealous.
Resident Bob Taylor, a former police officer himself, did not yell at town officials, but nevertheless said he was upset about the way the town went about notifying residents there was a potential tax issue.
After seeing his name on the list published on Oxford Patch and on websites of other news organizations on Tuesday, Taylor said he went to the tax office Wednesday morning looking to resolve the issue because he does not owe taxes.
“They didn’t have answers,” he said. “They left the tax collector staff in a boat without oars. They didn’t have a clear set of directions or protocols about what people should do if they feel their name was incorrectly placed on the list.
“If they put out information like that one day, the expectation should be that people are going to head to the office the next day to find out what’s going on,” he said. “And they seemed ill-prepared to explain the process.”
He believes the list should have been combed over a little more thoroughly before it was publicized. For example, he said, town officials could have made phone calls to people on the list first and explained the situation to them. His situation would have been rectified immediately, he said, as current Tax Collector Cayenne Spremullo would have quickly notice that he did indeed pay all of his taxes and his name was on the list inadvertently.
When he went to the office on Wedneday, that is exactly what tax officials told him.
Others will have to attempt to prove they have paid their taxes with a receipt from the tax office, a note from their mortgage company or their tax preparer, or via some other means.
That is what town employee Rosemary Harner, who works in the town clerk’s office, is going to attempt to do. She has paid all of her taxes and said she has refinanced her home recently, which she would not have been able to do if she had a tax lien against her property. Therefore, there is no way the list can be accurate because she does not owe taxes, she said.
“It’s an unfortunate situation that a lot of people are going through,” she said.
She blames Karen Guillet for not crediting her account properly and, like many, doesn’t want people thinking she is a delinquent taxpayer. She has confidence the town will fix the problems in the tax office.
First Selectman George Temple made it very clear this week that Spremullo, the current tax collector, is not the person who should be blamed for the current state of affairs in the tax office. In fact, he said, she should be commended for trying to solve problems.
Spremullo said Wednesday she is simply trying to figure out who owes and how much they owe. She wants to correct the list and remove names of those who don’t belong on it.
She said people who see their names on the list and have questions about it should go to her office at Town Hall or call her at 203.888.2543, ext. 3022. What she will need is some proof of payment. She also realizes people may not have that proof because the list of delinquencies goes back some 15 years. However, she said, she will meet with Temple, the Board of Finance and the town attorney to figure out how to deal with a taxpayer who says he or she has paid but cannot prove it with paperwork. In the past, people have been asked to sign sworn affidavits that state they have paid, but it’s unclear what will happen in this case.
While town officials work out details of how to help people who have been wrongly accused of owing money, Spremullo hopes taxpayers will be patient and understanding, though she understands why they may be upset.
“This was not done in any way to be accusatory,” she said. “But we just need to get the information out there so we can clean it up.”
Editor’s Note: We have received several messages from angry residents yesterday and today. Some of them are angry with town officials for releasing their names even though they may not really owe any money; some have said they will call their attorneys and possibly file defamation complaints against the town. Some have also been mad at us.
Like other news outlets, we printed this public information, which was being circulated to members of the local media by town officials. We also have made it clear that the list of delinquent taxpayers includes people who may not owe money. We printed the list because A. it’s a public document that is available to anyone who wants it at Town Hall, and B. because people have a right to know their names are on the list so they can rectify the situation. We did not intend to embarrass anyone.
If you believe you do not owe taxes but your name is still on the list, you have options. The first is to call the tax collector at 203.888.2543, ext. 3022 or stop by the office at Town Hall. And we will compile a list of people who claim they do not owe any taxes. If you are one of these people, please feel free to post your comments here, send us and your neighbors a message on our Facebook page or message us via Twitter @OxfordCTPatch. And you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.