KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- The town will only fine those late filing their homestead tax declarations $15 in order to make people aware that next year they could be facing penalties as high as $240.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd explained to the Select Board Monday that the state now requires property owners to file their declarations of homestead (An HS 122 form) on an annual basis, whereas before a homeowner only had to file it once. If late, the town may fine the taxpayer 3 percent of what they owe in education taxes. Hurd said the law, which came into effect this year, reads "may" not "shall," so the board has leeway.
He recommended the board use that discretion, as many people -- he was unsure of exactly how many -- are unaware of the requirement. He said the town knows of some cases where it will be an issue, and for some taxpayers the penalty may be more than $200.
"Requests for abatement and anger have begun to surface now that property owners have their bills," Hurd wrote in a memo to the board.
The declaration has to be made by April 15, the same day taxes are due. Hurd said the declaration is due then regardless of whether a person has received an extenuation on their tax bill.
The penalty is 3 percent in towns where the homestead education tax rate is lower than the non-homestead education tax rate, and 8 percent in towns where the situation is reversed.
Hurd said the town does not have to make up the cost of the waivers.
Board member Thomas Jacobs said the law regarding this has confused people, especially since it has changed three times in the past five years. Other board members echoed his sentiments and were against people being hit with large fines because they had been confused by the state and legislature.
According to Hurd, the form to make the declaration is no longer included in the tax bill, and while it can be found online not everyone has Internet access.
The exemption is only for this year. Hurd said he believes the state would not be in disagreement with the board’s action, but the ultimate intent of the law is to impose a penalty on those who do not file their declaration form.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.