Kyla Jones stepped outside the tax collector’s office and into the hallway of the former Greene School, which has served as city offices since the annex behind City Hall was forced to close because of a burst water pipe in January 2018.
“We’ll be able to hear out here,” she said.
The city’s tax collector was right. Inside the former classroom were not only residents cued up to make payments but multiple phones were ringing. The office was humming. Clerks were answering calls as quickly as possible, but the tsunami was just too much.
It all started last week in the wake of the latest Department of Motor Vehicles mailing to those owing municipal taxes on their cars. The DMV sent out 60,000 “tax block” letters statewide, 8,073 to Warwick residents.
The city had no warning of the notices, although, even if they had, there would be no way of handling all the calls. Checking his computer, William Miranda, deputy tax collector, said the office received 900 calls on Monday. Many of those could have been people calling multiple times before finally connecting.
This isn’t the first time the tax collector has been bombarded with calls about motor vehicle taxes. It happened in February when the DMV updated its computer system and sent out 120,000 tax block letters. At that time the DMV explained many of the delinquencies went back years and with new programming they were able to sweep all their records.
Prompting the effort is legislation introduced by Rep. Gregory J. Costantino of Johnston and co-signed by Warwick Rep. David Bennett in response to the DMV’s practice of not sending motor vehicle registration renewal notices to those owing municipal taxes. The legislators wanted the department to give fair notice before discovering they couldn’t re-register their vehicles.
As Paul Grimaldi, spokesman for the DMV, explained Tuesday, the DMV and legislators met to come up with a plan as to when and how frequently those notices should be sent.
“It was going to be more than once a year,” said Grimaldi, “but less than every day.”
Now as law, the legislation requires the DMV to mail the tax block letters in June and December.
As Peder Schaefer with the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns points out, while the mandate helps, it doesn’t solve the problem because the department is still not mailing renewal notices to those owing municipal taxes.
“The root of the problem is not mailing notices to those in arrears,” he said.
What he feels should happen is that as a renewal comes up a notice go to the vehicle owner informing them they must clear up city or town taxes due. If that were to happen, the tax collector would surely still get calls, but not hundreds of them in a day. People would get answers instead of hanging on the phones for an eternity or, as has happened, calling the mayor’s office.
Alternatively, might the DMV adopt a system of mailing out the tax block letters over the months of June and December instead of all at once so as to lessen the impact on municipal tax collectors?
Grimaldi didn’t know how that would work.
“We’re doing what’s required by law,” he said.
Noting the mailing that went out in February, Grimaldi said at least for this year the DMV will send out three notices.
Jones looked to find a bright side to what her co-workers were going through. As the notices went out in early June, she speculated the office might have less of a volume of people seeking to straighten out past due motor vehicle taxes when they get their tax bills next month.
Tax Assessor Neal Dupuis said Tuesday those bills wouldn’t be finalized until he certifies the tax rolls in another week to 10 days. Once that happens, he said, it would be another week before the bills are in the mail.
Assuming that schedule is met, the first quarterly tax payment is due July 15. A taxpayer may opt to pay the bill in full, in which case it is due Sept. 15.