Friday, March 9, 2018

Save Davidson saves low income elderly $28,496 in Town fees charged due to "clerical error"

Or, at least that's what can be saved for homeowners incorrectly charged the Town of Davidson's exorbitant solid waste fee over the past several years.

In a press release sent out last week, Save Davidson announced that it had identified examples where homeowners eligible for the Homestead Exclusion on property taxes had been incorrectly charged Davidson's $201 solid waste fee.  Per Davidson's ordinance, Homeowners who qualified for the Homestead Exclusion should also be exempt from this fee.

Davidson's solid waste fee is by far the highest such fee in the Lake Norman area.  The fee was implemented in 2011 to raise additional money needed to offset the subsidies required after the ill conceived decision to enter the cable business and form Mi-Connection.  The controversial fee is seen as a particularly regressive tax and has been a sore subject since its implementation.  That's particularly true in Davidson's Westside community.

From the Save Davidson press release...

The founding and continued purpose of Save Davidson is to attain transparency in the process and business done by and for the Town of Davidson.  An example of recent Save Davidson efforts and success is attributed to Donna Pollack, Treasurer of Save Davidson.  Pollack discovered and then questioned the Town of Davidson regarding erroneously billing citizens who qualify for the Homestead Exclusion for the Davidson Solid-Waste Fee of $201, which was instituted to off-set costs from the town owned cable company.  Citizens with income of less than $29,500, and who are 65+ years of age or who are totally and permanently disabled qualify for the exemption.  The Town of Davidson Ordinance, adopted on July 12, 2011, specifically states that citizens who qualify are not subject to the solid-waste fee.  “In many cases, this fee represents 25-35% of these residents’ tax bills.” Donna Pollack says and adds, “I fear this fee may have been a factor in property foreclosures in past years and we are advocating not only for citizens to be reimbursed but also for an investigation into possible process breakdown that allowed these citizens to be charged in error.”  According to Elizabeth Wilson, a family member of a resident being erroneously charged, “We’ve approached Town staff and former elected officials on many occasions regarding this fee and our concerns were dismissed and not addressed.” 

Well, now it appears those concerns and process issues are being given the attention they deserve.

aShortChronicle contacted the Town this week to find out more on how this happened and if a resolution was in the works.  The good news is that attempts to resolve the issue are under way.

Per Public Information Officer, Christina Shaul...

"When the budget ordinance pertaining to the new solid waste fee was passed in 2011, we informed both Mecklenburg and Iredell counties of the “Homestead” exemptions, and it seems that most of the appropriate exemptions were made. Due to a clerical error, Mecklenburg County resumed including the Town of Davidson solid waste fee on the property tax bills for certain parcels that should have been exempted.

The town will contact parcel owners within the next week to explain the situation and provide assistance in rectifying it."

In an email dated February 26th provided by Shaul to aShortChronicle, Town Finance Director Piet Swart outlines the scope of the "clerical error" behind the problem.  In the email to Town Manager Jamie Justice and Town Attorney Cindy Reid, Swart indicates 44 total parcels are impacted with 34 being impacted in the current budget year.  Per state statute, taxpayers can request refunds for taxes assessed due to a clerical error up to a five year limit.

The operative word here being "request".  These refunds will not be automatically issued.  Instead, taxpayers must request them.  That is due to the state statute, not Town policy.  To facilitate the request process, the Town has been working with the County to identify the taxpayers and will be sending out letters with instructions on how to make the request.  If all impacted taxpayers make the necessary requests, the total refunded by the Town will be $28,496.  Those letters are expected to go out on Monday.

It is certainly unfortunate this situation went on for as long as it did, but thankfully it seems to be on the way to being corrected.  Save Davidson deserves a lot of kudos for making that happen.  Sometimes it takes a forceful voice to make positive change with the activist roup showing that to be true on multiple occasions in 2017.  With its sustained involvement on local issues like this one, the group is continuing to have a positive impact.  That is great to see.

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