Bank to collect G’town taxes, so tax collector resigns

GERMANTOWN—Supervisor Joel Craig announced at the November 21 Town Board meeting that Tax Collector Janice Mullins had resigned, effective December 31. The board authorized the Bank of Greene County as a collection point for town taxes.

Mr. Craig said after the meeting that the authorization had nothing to do with the resignation.

But it turns out the resignation did have to do with the authorization.

In a letter dated November 17, Ms. Mullins wrote that the decision to have the bank collect taxes made her uncomfortable. “I am ultimately responsible for the tax warrant amount and all money collected and credited to each taxpayer correctly,” she wrote.

In her letter, and in an interview Tuesday, Ms. Mullins described an elected position that requires a great attention to detail.

It starts in December, when the county Office of Real Property informs the tax collector that the town’s tax bills are ready for pickup. Tax bills are mailed the next business day after the New Year’s Day holiday, in an envelope with a stamp. Mortgage escrow accounts go the bank holding the mortgage. Bills for those “on a plan” because they are behind on taxes go out separately. The rest go to individual property owners.

The next three months are the busiest, said Ms. Mullins. She went to Town Hall twice a week to pick up payments, then entered the details—property owner, amount, check number or cash—into a computer program and a hard copy ledger, with a stamp.

This stage is where the change would start. The 2018 tax bills will include information on paying at the bank. Payments made at Town Hall will be brought to the bank.

Penalties start accruing February 1 and have to be recorded separately. Penalty notices go out around the third week in March and second notices are printed for March, April and May payments.

Ms. Mullins estimated she handled about 1,400 tax bills for Germantown, worth more than $2 million. She did not collect school taxes, but if a property owner fell behind on school taxes, that tax was added to the bill she sent out from the town.

Germantown pays its tax collector $3,900 per year, in monthly payments.

June 1 is the last day to collect. Ms. Mullins generally had an appointment with the county Office of Real Property during the first two weeks in June, to file her report.

After that the job is quieter, she said, consisting of fielding telephone calls for information, assisting taxpayers who have misplaced their payment records and the like, until it is December again.

Ms. Mullins served three four-year terms, a total of twelve years. She ran unopposed this year, and was ready to serve a fourth term, she said Tuesday.

“Maybe the bank is more convenient, being open more hours,” she said. “Livingston does it that way. But the tax collector still has to go to the bank and pick up a report for what they collected. You don’t know who got a receipt and who didn’t. We never did it that way.”

Robert Beaury also ran unopposed this year, for supervisor. The change in collection point was something the Town Board had been talking about for months, he said Tuesday, pointing out that the vote was unanimous.

“It’s within the power of the supervisor to decide where the collection point is,” he said. “I would have done the same. But I’m not supervisor yet.”

The thinking behind the change is the convenience of the taxpayers, he said. “The bank is an advantage, people go there six days a week.”

In contrast, Ms. Mullins had collection hours at Town Hall only in January, two hours each on Wednesdays and Saturdays, according to the town website. After that, tax payments had to be mailed to her directly; they could not be mailed to Town Hall.

Under town law, Mr. Beaury said, the tax collector has the power to appoint a deputy, “but ours did not.” Now the Town Board can appoint a deputy, but not a tax collector; that office must be filled by an election next fall.

Towns may abolish the position of tax collector and assign the duties to the town clerk. There is no such plan in Germantown, said Mr. Beaury, “as far as I know. It’s way too early to consider it.”

Mr. Beaury learned of Ms. Mullins’ resignation only by attending the November 21 Town Board meeting. “I wish her the best,” he said. “I’ve known her for a long time, and she’s a great person.

“This was not my decision,” he stressed. “But our priority is to take care of our taxpayers, to do the right thing by them.”

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