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Town offices see surge in visitors as many pay taxes early in light of new law

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Posted on January 4, 2018 |
By Andy Kirkaldy



JackieSullivan6187.jpg
MIDDLEBURY TOWN TREASURER Jackie Sullivan, shown working at her desk earlier this week, worked extra hard last week, along with other town treasurers, to handle a surge in property tax payments made before the new year to take advantage of a change in tax law. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

ADDISON COUNTY — In Ferrisburgh’s Route 7 town offices last week, longtime Assistant Town Clerk and Treasurer Pam Cousino shook her head about the unusual number of visitors and phone calls at a time when she and her co-workers probably had hoped to catch up on a few tasks.

“I thought it was supposed to be quiet this week,” Cousino said.

Many of those visitors and calls focused on one issue — prepayment of the final two of four installments of Ferrisburgh’s property taxes, due on March 1 and June 1, and not required before Dec. 31.

But as well as making changes that will eventually benefit the nation’s wealthy, according to many independent analyses, the tax bill recently passed by Congress and signed by President Trump also eliminated local property tax deductions after 2017.

That change motivated many to pay in advance the final installments of their 2017-2018 taxes in order to claim those payments as deductions one final time on their 2017 tax forms. And that in turn meant a pretty steady stream of ringing phones in the Ferrisburgh town office and visitors at its counter, as well as in other town offices around Addison County.

Cousino said a handful of residents who would prefer not to have to remember to make quarterly payments have always just paid them in full early, but this year’s rush is different.

“This has never happened before,” Cousino said.

Given those numbers Cousino said many taxpayers last week even sought to pay their estimated 2018-2019 taxes early, something Cousino and Ferrisburgh Treasurer Deb Healey politely declined to allow.

“A lot of them asked, though,” Cousino said.

Healey estimated as of late Friday morning between 70 and 100 Ferrisburgh property owners had paid off their full tax bills early rather than wait to pay their scheduled installments.

Many, Healey said, were owners of expensive lakefront property with big tax bills, but she said residents from “across the spectrum” showed up with their checkbooks.

“Everybody who can scrape together the money is doing it,” Healey said. “I did it. It does make sense to do it.”

And they did have to show up, or send checks or money orders via special delivery to beat the end-of-the-week deadline.

“Postmarks don’t count for us,” Healey said.

The math is in favor of those who paid early. Assuming that town property owners itemize their taxes, that their half-year tax bill is $3,000, and that the amount is fully deductible, those who did pay early will save between $450 and $1,188 in federal taxes — most who pay property taxes are in 2017 tax brackets that range between 15 and 39.6 percent of income.

In Middlebury, according to figures provided by Treasurer Jackie Sullivan on Tuesday, 165 taxpayers paid off early their March property tax installments, the final of three due in the town.

Treasurer’s assistant Deb Stevens said not everybody was certain what the law says or whether it was worth the trouble, and many were following the advice of accountants and tax advisers.

“A lot of people are confused,” Stevens said. “But they are willing to take the gamble.”

Unlike Ferrisburgh, Middlebury was willing to accommodate the handful of residents — “Five tops, if that,” Stevens said — who wanted to put something toward their 2018-2019 taxes, although Stevens said she and Sullivan made no representation those payments would be deductible.

“You really have to talk to an accountant,” she said. “We don’t want to get in the middle of that, but we’ll always take payments.”

In Vergennes, where quarterly installments are due the 15th day of August, November, February and May, the rush was not as dramatic, probably in part because there are larger and pricier properties than in the county’s other large towns.

But Assistant City Clerk Melissa Wright said this past Friday between 16 and 20 property owners paid early, four or five times as many as normal. And those who did were motivated.

“I’ve actually had one person put it on a charge card,” Wright said, adding per city policy that meant a 3 percent surcharge on top of the taxes owed.

Wright described a “cross section” of residents coming in or mailing in payments, but believes she noticed a trend.

“I’d say people with more money are paying them off,” she said.

According to Bristol Town Clerk and Treasurer Jen Myers on Friday about 50 taxpayers had opted to take care of the second half of their tax bills early — 50 percent of Bristol taxes are due on each of Nov. 5 and April 5.

“We’ve had quite a few people in the past few days,” Myers said.

She said like other communities a mix of people made the choice.

“I’d say it’s a combination of business and home owners,” Myers said

The most common question asked of Myers was whether Bristol would accept prepayments.

No worries there, she laughed — what was good for the residents was also good for their towns.

“Of course we’ll take your money,” Myers said. “It’s great for cash-flow purposes.”

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]

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