Fears over mistakes with car tax bills have come to fruition for local officials.
The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles switched to a new computer system last August. The change led to a host of unintended consequences, including incorrect car registrations and cars being registered in the wrong towns.
“It wasn’t a smooth transition,” Beacon Falls Tax Collector Mary Anne Holloway said. “Each one that is wrong we have to stop and correct.”
Since municipal tax departments rely on the DMV to tell it which cars are registered where, many residents either did not receive a tax bill for their vehicle or received the wrong bill.
Heading into July, when taxes are due, officials encouraged residents to make sure they received a bill and, if they did, make sure it’s correct.
“Open it when it comes in,” Prospect Tax Collector Diane Lauber said in June. “Don’t wait until the end of the month.”
Since vehicle tax bills went out in the beginning of July, officials in Prospect, Beacon Falls and Naugatuck have been working to help residents correct problems.
Naugatuck Assessor Carol Anne Tyler said she is about 20 people a day come into her office to try and straighten out their bill.
“They don’t have their cars in our system and they don’t know where it went,” Tyler said.
Although their towns are smaller than Naugatuck, Lauber and Holloway said they have seen their share of residents who have been affected as well.
“There are easily 100 envelopes that came back with ‘not deliverable’ or ‘wrong addresses’ on them. I have to look up each one to see if we have another address for that person. I’m trying to see if I can get bills out to the right people,” Holloway said.
Holloway said that doesn’t take into account the number of people who have come into the office with either an incorrect bill or no bill at all.
There isn’t much local officials can do to help residents, though. If a vehicle has been registered incorrectly by the DMV it is up to the vehicle owner to straighten it out, Lauber said last week.
“The most we can do is enlighten them about the problem,” Lauber said. “The owner of the vehicle has to make the change at the DMV. We can give them the phone number for the DMV and the form for a change of address.”
Another option for residents and municipalities to find out whether a car is registered in the wrong town is to wait for the bill to become delinquent on Aug. 1, Tyler said. This will send up red flags that will eventually lead to the car being registered in the correct town.
“We will straighten it out eventually,” Tyler said.
However, waiting for a vehicle to be past due is not the best option for most residents.
Once a bill is past due interest is charged and the vehicle owner will have to pay that also, Holloway said.
“A tax collector does not have the ability to waive interest. That goes by state statutes. We are trying to get all the bills out by the month of July and trying to get it to people in time,” Holloway said.
Holloway said the state will not admit fault.
“The DMV is not going to take ownership of the problem. It is going to fall on taxpayers. Every taxpayer needs to know it is their responsibility to know they are getting a bill July 1. They must call right away and be vigilant about it. It really does fall upon them to be vigilant and know that,” Holloway said.
Department of Motor Vehicles Chief of Staff Bill Seymour said the department has been working with towns to address the matter and recommended residents talk to their assessor.
“It is a subject that involves weekly discussions and approaches to solutions. We believe the solution that has worked best has been to tell customers to look at their tax bills and contact their town assessor if there is an error. The assessors will then remedy any problem,” Seymour said.
Tyler also recommended residents find out if they are dealing with a DMV error or their registration has been canceled.
“Any time your insurance lapses the DMV removes your registration. Not getting an emissions test could cancel it too. That information doesn’t come to us. Everyone should check their plate online at the DMV website and make sure DMV shows you as active,” Tyler said.