Greenwich Tax Collector Candidates Readying for Election
With Greenwich’s municipal election just one month away, the candidates for Tax Collector are gearing up for the final push.
This year’s ballot features incumbent and Democratic candidate, Howard Richman, going up against Heather Smeriglio, a Republican. They’re scheduled to face off in a debate on Oct. 30 from 7 to 9 p.m., at Town Hall.
Richman said he had about a 6 to 9 month learning curve at first, but he’s enjoyed the role since being elected in 2017, especially the customer service aspect. He said he’s learned the laws and what his office is allowed to do under state statute, and that every resident is treated the same way.
“That [relates] to when you’re going after delinquent tax,” Richman noted. “Everyone is treated fairly, everyone is treated the same. The people who pay their taxes are happy to know that the people who don’t, are being gone after because everybody should be on a level playing field.”
Earlier this year in March, the Tax Collector’s Office identified 120 properties in town that owed back taxes. The property owners were contacted with what’s called a “delinquent notice”, and then a “demand notice.” Since then, 55 out of the 120 property owners have paid in full, 13 of them have made partial payments, and 52 have not yet responded, either because they couldn’t be reached for whatever reason, or they’re ignoring the notices.
Overall since March, Greenwich has collected $4.2 million in delinquency tax, which Richman says has had a positive impact on the town.
The money collected goes into the town’s treasury. In May, the Board of Estimate and Taxation used the roughly $2.7 million collected at the time to raise the mill rate to 2.75 percent, rather than the suggested 2.98 percent. The additional funds helped lower taxes for Greenwich property owners.
“It’s money that wouldn’t have been there before if we hadn’t started doing this,” Richman said.
If the remaining 52 property owners continue to ignore notices, the next step would be a tax sale, but Richman said his office is trying to collect before things get to that point. A date for a future tax sale is still up in the air.
A tax sale is a public auction of property conducted by a municipal entity which applies the proceeds against unpaid taxes or similar assessments owed. For more on tax sales, go to greenwichct.gov and the Tax Collector section.
In June, the Tax Collector Department hired Adam Cohen, an attorney from Pullman and Comley, to do title searches on the outstanding delinquent properties. Cohen’s work isn’t costing the Greenwich taxpayer any money, Richman said. Instead, Cohen bills the delinquent taxpayer for time spent on the title title search. The quicker the town receives payment, the lower the attorney fee.
“Nobody wants to throw anyone out of their house, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think when it comes down to it, most of these properties will pay their tax,” Richman said. “But that’s the job of the tax collector; to collect as much revenue as they can for the town, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Richman also pointed to the streamlining of processes in the Tax Collector’s office, and the fact that there are no lines for payment in Town Hall, as accomplishments over his term. He was able to redesign tax bills to reduce taxpayer error, and encourage more residents to use online services.
If re-elected, Richman added that delinquency tax will continue to be a challenge for his office, as well as manpower. The Tax Collector’s Office was cut from six full-time positions down to four. He wants tol continue to advocate for a fifth position if re-elected.
Richman believes his first term sets him up to succeed going forward if re-elected because he won’t have a learning curve in the position. During the last month leading up to Nov. 5, he plans to meet as many voters as possible.
“The thing I enjoy most about being Tax Collector is helping people,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Smeriglio, the Republican challenger, is certified by the state of Connecticut as a municipal tax collector. The process to become certified takes three years, and Richman has completed all but one of the courses required to be certified. He said he’ll be certified at some point during his next term, if re-elected.
Smeriglio is also a member of the Certified Collectors Municipal Tax Collectors Association, and is a former banker with over 33 years of experience in the financial industry.
She worked in the Greenwich Tax Collector’s Office under Tod Laudonia for four years from 2013 to 2017, before moving to the town’s Parking Services Department due to budget cuts.
Smeriglio said her experience can help her if elected.
“I know what goes on in the office, the makeup of the office, who’s doing what. I actually worked at the counter, and was right up there with the customers. I was also in charge of issuing refunds,” she said. “I enjoy the customer contact, and I love to provide excellent customer service.”
Smeriglio she would not have a tax sale if elected, out of concern for affecting senior citizens who can’t make a tax payment.
She noted that in her opinion, there’s never any danger that the town is losing money because once tax payment is delinquent, the town places a lien on the property, which has to be paid before the property is sold. The town then collects 18 percent annually on whatever taxes are back taxes.
“I would just try to work with people. If they were delinquent, I’d call them in, have a conversation, and have communication with assessors and the finance department, and try to come up with a plan rather than throw people out of their homes,” Smeriglio said.
Like Richman, Smeriglio said that staffing in the Tax Collector’s Office will be a challenge going forward.
Aside from her experience, Smeriglio said she’s an appealing candidate because of her communication skills, and her love of Greenwich. She’s a third generation resident, and noted that she believes strongly in public service. Her campaign slogan is “Service Above Self.”