Berlin Offers Tax Amnesty Month

BERLIN – A handful of property owners owing back real estate taxes to the town of Berlin will now be able to pay those taxes without penalties or interest after the Mayor and Council approved a tax amnesty period this week.

Property owners still owing taxes from 2005-2006 now have until June 1 to pay their Berlin property taxes.

Twenty-four properties still owe $22,000 in taxes from the 2006 fiscal year. Penalties and interest amount to $9,100.

In four cases, the town apparently erred and did not collect the taxes owed when a property transfer was made. In another 10 cases, a vacant lot was sold and improved and the owners owe the difference in taxes on a vacant lot and a lot with a building, assessed on improved properties during the supplemental half-year tax.

“The other ones as far as I can tell just didn’t pay their taxes,” said Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary.

The amnesty applies only to unpaid taxes from tax year 2005-2006, not any other year. A transition between old and new employees during the period when those bills were sent out has confused the issue of whether some bills were mailed.

The town believes they were all sent, but cannot prove it.

“I cannot deny or confirm the notices went out,” said Bambary.

Most of the bills have been paid, she said, leaving just a handful outstanding.

Property owners who called in and made payment arrangements were relieved of the interest and penalty payments, Bambary said.

The town has sent out letters to the property owners, and a few did pay their back taxes, but not all.

Now the town just wants to get those taxes in its coffers and is willing to forego interest and penalties to sweeten the blow for landowners.

“I agree with that. I think that’s a good idea,” said Berlin Council member Ellen Lang.

“Rather than spend a lot more time and attorney fees we’ll give them a chance to pay,” said Bambary.

“They have 30 days. If they don’t pay it in 30 days, interest and penalties go back on and they go to tax sale,” Lang said.

Onlookers were surprised to hear that Councilman Elroy Brittingham’s name was on that list, but he was quick to reassure his fellow council members and the townsfolk that he has paid all taxes he is responsible for on the vacant lot in question.

The outstanding tax bill on the vacant lot Brittingham purchased last spring is a legacy from the previous owner, who is deceased.

“I paid everything at settlement,” Brittingham said.

Ironically, town attorney Dave Gaskill represents the estate that sold the lot to Brittingham. He said it is up to the estate to pay that tax bill.

Confusion arose in that case because a town employee made a mistake and allowed the deed to be recorded and stamped after the transfer although the taxes were in arrears.

“Even if the town made a mistake that doesn’t excuse them from the tax,” Gaskill said.

Bambary said she does not anticipate the same problem in the future, as Worcester County now collects town taxes.

The missing tax revenue poses no financial difficulty for the town of Berlin, Bambary said. “We know that we can eventually collect on our taxes,” she said.

Properties owing taxes that do not pay up by the June 1 deadline could be subject to a tax sale. The town is required to give the property owner a certain amount of notice, and then advertise the sale in the local newspapers, but the council does not have to sign off on tax auctions.

The council approved the tax amnesty unanimously with Brittingham abstaining.