Part of the problem with Finance is, as Ms. Hupprich set forth, understaffing and overworking, particularly of the front desk personnel in that office. They are probably severely underpaid for the work they do as well, at least in comparison to the upper echelons of the hierarchy who provide no tangible benefit.
However, the underlying root of the problem is much more insidious than your article would indicate. As taxpayers, we have to prove to Finance, IRB, DLCA — everyone — that we paid our taxes. For God's sake, get everything stamped and keep all your cancelled checks and records of dealings with government agencies. If you don't have proof of payment for property taxes in your hand for, say, 1995, you have to pay again. If they can't find a record of payment in the morass of files these agencies possess, you pay again. It's another suit against the government just waiting to happen.
In the real world, in a real estate transaction the register of deeds is checked for tax and other liens, encumbrances and that ends it. Property tax bills are checked with the municipality with a 30-second phone call, amount due, bill date and proration. A 5-minute undertaking that is virtually always supported, and has been so for at least the last two decades, even in the tiniest of towns, by quickly accessed computer files in the municipal office. I could call a municipality stateside right now and find out my tax bill from 1989 in minutes and have a receipt for payment mailed to me — because they are responsible for the valuation, billing, collection, liening, discharging liens and record keeping.
Here, we're talking months instead of minutes, as is typical. For some reason tax liens seem to rarely issue here in the V.I. You can surmise your own answer to that query. The municipalities in the real world take responsibility for the funds they receive and make a record of the payments. (They also fire employees that are rude, incompetent, don't do anything all day and they don't give them free vehicles and cell phones, but that's another rant.) The onus is not on the taxpayer to pay, and, years later, provide proof of payment once again or pay over.
I would hazard a guess that hundreds of thousands of dollars of duplicate collections have occurred over the years, unfairly, unnecessarily and, clearly, connivingly. This is the issue that Senator Berry should look at — a bill making the government responsible for proper record keeping and responsible to the taxpayers they (are supposed to) serve. Something like 2/3 of us aren't in the "government employee" voting bloc. Why can't we do something about it?
A little planning, some software and a few computers, for example, on the scale of a municipality that has a population on the order of the size of the V.I. — or even larger — could do the chore in conjunction with existing and planned (the "Tax Cases") systems. If networked between DLCA, OLG, Finance, IRB, etc., they all would have access to the records, and we wouldn't have to run hither, thither and yon standing outside the glass, waiting for a letter, a stamp, a receipt. A huge waste of time that does not occur elsewhere.
It really is simple, but this government won't take responsibility. I can almost hear "it's not a simple as you might think." Ya. Right.
[Attorney, former Certified Maine State Tax Assessor, former Certified General Real Estate Appraiser, Broker, Registered Maine Forester]
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