Greenwich tax collector race focuses on overdue property taxes owed to city

GREENWICH – The race for a tax collector in Greenwich comes down to a decision on how best to collect unpaid property taxes – the same problem that defined elections two years ago.

After Republican Heather Smeriglio was elected tax collector in 2019, she put an end to a process started by her predecessor Howard Richman, whom she defeated in the election, which threatened to organize a “tax sale” to force the overdue accounts payable.

Richman’s actions resulted in millions of unpaid property taxes. But Smeriglio said there should be a more compassionate way for the city to get the money it is owed.

Now that decision is under review by Trevor Crow, the Democrat challenging Smeriglio in the November 2 election.

“Howard was able to collect $ 5.7 million in uncollected taxes for the city,” Crow said. “That’s a lot. And for a city that needs to improve its infrastructure and invest in schools, that’s a significant amount of money.

Crow said she would do a better job than Smeriglio.

“Howard has been called heartless, but I think not to collect that would be unfortunate,” Crow said. “I believe that my responsibility towards the city and the BET is to be really on top. My platform is transparency and innovation.

But Smeriglio said she brought compassion and understanding to the workplace while maintaining a tax collection rate of 99.3 percent. A former employee of the office, Smeriglio is also a certified tax collector and is working on her recertification.

“I don’t believe in tax sales and forcing people out of their homes,” she said. “I believe you can work with the taxpayer. My motto is “service above self” and I want to treat others as I want to be treated. “

Smeriglio said she is working to collect the money that is owed to the city.

“My way is to sit down and have a communication, and if we absolutely have to, maybe do something with a tax sale, but that would be the absolute last resort for me,” he said. she declared. “I think it’s best not to go down the hard road, and I hope it never will. It doesn’t resonate with who I am.

If re-elected, Smerigio said her priority would be to “keep making money”. She said she was working on collecting overdue accounts, which she said have fallen to less than 10 that are close to the 15-year statute of limitations.

She said she recently opened an overdue account of $ 800,000 with help from the city’s legal department.

“We are currently working with the BET on a policy for overdue properties,” said Smeriglio. But she declined to discuss the details of any new policy. It’s still in draft form at BET, but she said she expects details to be released by the end of the year.

Pay taxes

Crow, a certified therapist with an office in Westport, said she remembers her father sharing the classic phrase that there are “only two certain things in life, death and taxes.”

And while many complain about paying taxes, she said taxes must be collected “fully, just and fairly.”

Crow said she would work with the Board of Estimate and Taxation to create reports showing who has unpaid taxes, how much is owed, and how long it’s been due. She said she would demand payments before the 15-year limitation period is reached and the tax becomes uncollectible.

“We have to be transparent,” Crow said. “The BET should know who is late, what is happening, who is collecting and why the taxes were not collected.

“I have an MBA from Harvard. I spent four years on Wall Street. I worked in a negotiation office before I became a family therapist. I have the financial speech as well as the emotional speech. Paying taxes is an emotional thing. I do not like it. Nobody likes it. But we need a fire department and a police department. We need safe roads, ”she said.

If a resident couldn’t pay their taxes, Crow said she would create a payment plan and keep the BET informed. She said she would not allow taxes to go without being collected for years.

Crow said she would also push for improvements to the tax collector’s section of the city’s website to make it easier for residents to make credit card payments.

“We need to update our software in this area,” Crow said. “I would consult fintech experts on this. … I think we should also look to the future, to our next generation of taxpayers who will want to pay through Venmo or PayPal or other apps. They won’t want to hand over a check to town hall or send one in the mail. We need to start preparing for the future and improving our game technologically. “

Taxes during COVID

Smeriglio said she was running on her case and highlighted her success in working with BET and the representative city meeting at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when the city implemented a tax deferral of 90 days to help taxpayers.

The state had demanded that all cities offer tax breaks early in the pandemic, and Smeriglio said it was his idea to establish the grace period. The decision is “near and dear to her,” she said, as it helped taxpayers while ensuring the city received the money it was owed.

During COVID, “a lot of people felt the financial impact,” Smeriglio said. “By giving taxpayers that extra time to pay, I hope it has helped them. … I think this is something I was able to do during my first term.

Even at the height of the pandemic last year, when city hall access was limited, Smeriglio said she was in the office every day with limited staff to answer phones, process mail and make sure. that the deposits reached the bank every day.

The pandemic temporarily closed the bank branch used by the city for deposits, so Smeriglio said she traveled to Stamford to make the deposits.

“Despite everything that has happened, we haven’t missed a beat,” she said. “There was no problem. The funds have arrived at the bank for the city to benefit from. My team and I all got together and did our best. It was a team effort. “

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Esther L. Steinbach