Verizon gets its bills to its customers on time. So do the Long Island Power Authority, your credit card company, and the people who supply home heating oil. So why did an unknown number of Town of East Hampton property taxpayers fail to get their bills at the end of the year? Answers have not been forthcoming. Nor does there appear to be much interest among town officials in figuring out what happened and how to prevent a similar mistake in the future.
Here is how the system is supposed to work: Once the 2013 budget is approved in November, tax bills are prepared, and then sent out. As it has in the past, the town hired an outside company to take care of the mailings. First-half payments were due without penalty by Jan. 10. The bills went out of the town offices between Dec. 14 and 19, according to Len Bernard, the town’s budget officer. However, somewhere along the line, either at the mailing company, Town Hall, or the post offices, something went amiss. A number of bills arrived late or never showed up at all, even at addresses to which bills had been posted successfully in prior years.
The official reaction, that there had been no “noticeable” drop in tax payments, misses the point. If first-half taxes went unpaid until mid-May, for example, when the rest of the bill comes due, the taxpayer would incur a 5-percent penalty, real money for most people. Most property owners probably know that payments are due twice annually, but for those accustomed to receiving tax bills, reminders in the mail are all but essential.
Town officials should take this lapse seriously, learn what went wrong, and change the way mailings are handled in the future, if necessary.