NORWALK, Conn. — The deadline has passed for Norwalkers to pay their property taxes, and “I think things are going fairly well,” Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli said Monday.
Norwalk citizens were given an extended grace period because of the pandemic and had until Oct. 1 to pay their taxes without penalty.
“We were very concerned about how people would be paying because we just didn’t know how the virus would affect our collections, given the extended grace period. But it does appear that we did pretty well.”
The Mayor’s dashboard shows that nearly 51 percent of the fiscal year 2021 tax levy has been collected. Those stats are through Oct. 2, Biagiarelli told the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
“We’ll know better when we post all of our mail,” she said. “…It appears that we had a very robust last week of September into October. And the volume of work that we did during the month of September and into October this year compared to prior years was significantly higher.”
Biagiarelli has been saying she’s “cautiously optimistic that things are going to be alright,” a sentiment echoed by Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz.
“As I expected and forecast, we’re kind of doing OK,” Dachowitz said Monday. “… I don’t want to put any more precision on it.”
In September, Biagiarelli said collections were “definitely down,” about 7.22 percent, but, “I think that that is entirely due to the extension that the Council and the Mayor offered to the public. As of the end of August, we had achieved a 44.21 percent collection on the $350 million adjusted levy. Which isn’t bad. I mean, you knew it was going to be down.”
The Tax Collector’s Office processed 15,000 payments in the three weeks that ended Oct. 1, a period that saw 5,000 transactions last year, Dachowitz said. “So there really was a crunch,” and Biagiarelli’s “brilliant” idea of opening a window for customer service use will City Hall was closed was “helpful.”
Norwalk didn’t hold its tax sale because of the pandemic but all the notices went out and $3.2 million was collected, they said.
Year to year, during the 31 weeks that began when the pandemic shut things down, collections were up 2.6 percent, Dachowitz said. “That translates (to) $4.85 million, where we got the best of both worlds: we advertised the tax sale, but we didn’t have the cost of doing a tax sale. But a lot of people when they get that notice they belly up to the barn and pay it off.”
“So, kudos to Lisa and her department,” he said. “Good for all of us in Norwalk looking at the finances. And obviously, we’re monitoring it very carefully. But all the indications look good.”
Biagiarelli said that the majority of Norwalk’s tax collections come from real estate, property that represents people’s most important investment, so “if there’s one bill they’re going to pay on time, it’s their tax bill.”
Dachowitz has said this, too. Biagiarelli said 13 percent of Norwalk’s collections are from business property and 70 percent is residential. The market would have to drop 95 percent “before we are in danger of not collecting,” Dachowitz continued.
“I suspect as Lisa says, residential, that’s their biggest asset,” Dachowitz said. “They don’t want to lose that value. They don’t want us selling it for them. So they will probably pay that on the commercial side.”
And, “Based on what I’ve heard from economic development, we in Norwalk, as a quote/unquote, suburban town outside New York City are benefiting,” Dachowitz said. “We have residents who are migrating from New York. We have businesses who were saying ‘let me open up a small business office in Norwalk rather than Manhattan.’”
Further, Norwalkers who are working from home are deciding they need an office here because the kids are distance learning “so even our commercial properties are getting a positive demand,” Dachowitz said. “That’s why I’m pretty optimistic that as a city, our revenue streams are going to hold up pretty well.”
Copy edit, 11:57 p.m.