What’s causing Isle of Wight’s surge of overdue tax bills?

Published 12:40 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

When Smithfield area resident Kathy Strozak saw a past-due notice from the Isle of Wight County Treasurer’s Office in her mailbox on March 22 claiming she owed $75 in unpaid car taxes and interest, she checked her bank records, which showed she’d paid the bill on time Nov. 30.

On the county’s self-service website, however, which allows residents to pay their taxes online, Strozak said she saw her November payment had been entered incorrectly.

“I tried to call twice,” Strozak said.

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Each time resulted in a message stating the wait time would be more than an hour.

She isn’t alone. A thread posted to an Isle of Wight County community Facebook group on March 22 asking whether anyone else had received a delinquent notice despite paying in full netted 127 comments over the next three days.

Among the commenters are county residents Max Litt and Mark Wolfman Messmore, each of whom said they too had received overdue notices.

“It’s $58 property tax this year; last year it was $27,” Litt told The Smithfield Times on March 25. “Haven’t called them yet. Not sure exactly what they can do.”

“I worked in finance for over 14 years and this is very concerning, especially since I see a lot of other folks are having similar issues,” Strozak said. “I hope this gets resolved quickly and painlessly.”

Treasurer Julie Slye, who in last November’s elections defeated incumbent Dahlis Atkins, said there are two separate issues causing the overdue notices.

Slye said prior to her election, the county used a third-party lockbox facility in Merrifield, more than 175 miles north of Isle of Wight, to collect payments of car and real estate taxes.

“There have been payments applied incorrectly from December; these payments are from both the lockbox and staff,” Slye said, adding “the problems with the lockbox are they are not able to see notes in our operating system and it seemed to take longer for mail to be processed.”

The Merrifield lockbox “has been closed” and “going forward no payments will be going to the P.O. Box in Merrifield,” Slye said.

The second issue pertains to what Slye termed “supplement bills” due on March 5.

A supplement bill, Slye said, can be for real estate or car taxes. The extra car tax bill applies if someone purchases a vehicle or mobile home after the bills are created in March. For real estate, supplement bills are generated if a house is completed but not included on bills created in August.

The most recent supplement bills “appear to only halve the first half being printed and mailed,” Slye said. “Those bills can be paid without penalty or interest if paid by April 5.”

Messmore told the Times he’d learned from the county on March 25 that his bill fell into the supplement category. He’d purchased a motorcycle and owed one month’s worth of taxes on it.

“The only penalty and interest being removed are on the supplement bills due in February and March,” Slye said. “If the citizen is late on any other bills the penalty and interest are still charged. If the citizen thinks their payment has been applied incorrectly, they should contact the office so we can verify the payment.”

Slye attributes the difficulties in reaching her office by phone to a lack of personnel on hand to answer calls. At a March 7 presentation to county supervisors, Slye said she’s down two positions, one in collections, which were moved out of her office to utility billing.

“Those are important positions; I have asked for those back for the upcoming fiscal year,” Slye told the supervisors.

The loss of the two positions “leaves the office and citizens at a disadvantage when there is a high volume of calls,” Slye told the Times. One of the nine positions she’s budgeted is also vacant, she said.