DANBY — Would a delinquent tax collector be more effective if appointed rather than elected?
Danby Town Assembly voters initially said yes, by a margin of 88 votes. But they are now being asked to reconsider a vote that gave the select committee the power to appoint the position.
A briefing will take place at 7 p.m. on May 16 at the Currier Memorial School, and the Australian ballot will take place the following day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Town Offices at 130 Brook Road. Ballots have been mailed to voters.
On the day of the town meeting, 58% of voters who voted approved granting this authority to the council, by a vote of 310 to 222. The question, item 8 of the town meeting warning, asked , in part, “Should the voters authorize the Selection Council to appoint an overdue tax collector?” It was placed on warning by the select committee.
Douglas R. White, the current delinquent tax collector, has held the position since 2016 and sponsored the petition to reconsider. He hopes that this time voters will say “no”, which means the position will still be elected.
In a post on the Danby Families Facebook page, White said expenses paid by the elected tax collector, including postage, materials and legal fees, would be paid for by the city instead. which would eat away at the additional revenue collected. Right now, White said he’s absorbing those costs — about $1,000 a year.
He also said the city has yet to explain how much the named delinquent tax collector would be paid, or whether the position would be eligible to join the union representing city workers. According to White, the deputy city clerk, three highway department employees and the transfer station attendant are currently represented in labor negotiations.
Bradley Bender, a member of the Select Board, said the Select Board put the question to the voters of the municipal assembly because they saw it as a way to raise revenue, offsetting the municipal tax rate. He also said an appointed collector would be accountable to the select committee and could be replaced if they failed to meet expectations.
Both sides to the argument say their approach offers greater accountability – either to the select committee if the position is appointed, or to the voters if it remains elected.
The city currently owes $110,989.39 in back taxes, a letter to voters from the Select Board says.
“If $20,000 is collected in overdue taxes and fees, that’s worth a penny on the big list,” Bender said.
This letter from the Select Board stated that if the measure is passed again, “The Select Board plans to present a second item to voters at a subsequent town meeting which, if passed, will authorize the town to pay the collector of ‘delinquent taxes an allowance instead of the statutory 8% penalty on overdue taxes. If this passes, the collector would respond to the Select Board and be held accountable to take action before overdue bills become so high that they don’t attract bidders at a tax sale, as was the case recently when the city had to bid on the property.”
On Tuesday, White said he averaged $11,256 in penalty income per year during his seven years in office. He said he collected a total of $1,502,742 in back taxes since 2016, including $1,267,349 in principal, $156,599 in interest and a total of $78,794 in penalties.
Under the current arrangement, the delinquent tax collector receives a one-time penalty of 8% for late payment; the city receives the principal and interest in the future. Under the proposal, the city would keep the revenue from the penalty and pay an allowance to the collector.
“With the unknown wage rate and relatively small increase in city revenue, is that something that really needs to change?” White asked. “An elected delinquent tax collector will work much harder than an appointed collector. No money coming in equals no paycheck.
He also disputed Bender’s assertion about how income would affect the tax rate. Only the 8% penalty would count as new revenue, he said, meaning an example of $20,000 would amount to $1,600 in penalty revenue — $1.60 on a tax bill for a house worth $200,000.
Bender said the proposal did not reflect any animosity against White, nor his professional performance as an elected delinquent tax collector. He noted that several years ago the city took similar action by transferring the registration fees from the city clerk’s office to the city’s general fund for the same reason. “These are ways to lower the tax rate and save the city money,” he said.
But in a letter to constituents and in an interview with the Journal, Bender noted two specific instances of funds that got away.
Bender pointed out that in April, the Danby Council of Civil Authority canceled a 2006 bill for $2,521.53 because the statutory collection period had expired.
He also told the Journal that the city was the only bidder on a distressed property carrying more than $15,000 in back taxes. “If it had been put in place in a timely manner when the price was low, a neighbor would have made an offer,” he said.
The inclusion of these examples in the letter leads White to believe that the Select Board’s endorsement of an appointed post is indeed a criticism of his work.
Does White think he’s doing a good job? “I feel like I did a great job,” he said. “I put my heart and soul into it. I make it as easy as possible for taxpayers to make payments.