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Norwalk Tax Dept. report: Tax Sale, Reval; software problems

Sign reading Assessor's Office Property Inspector, Vision Government Solutions
Sign on an East Avenue sidewalk, March 7 near City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — Some Council Finance Committee news:

  • Norwalk will use robocall to advertise reval
  • Tax software still a challenge
  • Tax sale delayed a year
  • Update on tax levy decrease

Interim Tax Assessor says he’d do reval communication differently

Vision Government Solutions, the firm conducting this year’s revaluation of city properties, has visited about half of Norwalk homes and 31% of its commercial properties, interim Norwalk Tax Assessor Paul Gorman said at Thursday’s Common Council Finance Committee meeting. “Those numbers are on track with what we were expecting.”

But many homeowners have been surprised by assessors knocking on the door, he said. Mayor Harry Rilling plans to issue a robocall this week with updates about the reval, and explanations about why it’s being done.

Gorman became interim Assessor in March when Tax Assessor William Ford resigned, just after the 2022 Grand List was finalized. The many glitches in that process inspired strong criticism from Council members and Ford’s resignation came as a surprise to Gorman.

He said that if he’s still assessor when the next revaluation comes around in four and a half years, “It’s on my list of things to do to start off the Reval with the robocall and maybe a letter to everybody in the mail, or maybe put it in as a letter in the tax bills that go out as a reminder of what’s going to be going on.”

Vision will be sending letters this week to property owners who weren’t home when the assessors came calling and in June, data mailers will go out, giving homeowners the chance to provide property updates or correct assessment inaccuracies, he said.

The taxing districts have posted information about the reval and the City plans to brainstorm other ideas to alert citizens, he said.

QDS sticky points: push to get tax bills out on time

Tax bills will hopefully go out in mid-June, Norwalk Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli said. At the very latest, it will be end of the month.

“This will be our initial first billing on the QDS software system,” she said, referring to the new software that’s been giving her department problems.

Biagiarelli has detailed “glitches” at previous Finance Committee meetings, last month telling Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) that she’d rate her concern at 2.5 on a scale of one to three.

Burnett asked her for an update Thursday.

“Still a few hiccups, primarily with processes that happen once a year,” she said. “So for example, my process to file lien continuing certificates. It’s the first time I’m doing that on this system. And it the biggest problem with this system, frankly, is that there’s no manual.”
QDS says it can’t produce a manual “because they make so many changes to the system,” according to Biagiarelli. Tax Collectors are making their own manual “but it’s very, very hard to work on a system when you don’t have any written instructions and you have to call the vendor every time you run into a brick wall.”

She’s concerned about the bills but that’s “another hurdle to jump over,” she said. “We don’t have any other options right now, so we’re just going full steam ahead.”

Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz agreed the lack of a manual is a problem but said, “Other cities, towns, and individuals who have used this over the years have told us that once you get over that hurdle, and you have all of these processes in place, it’s a great system… The optimism we have is that Lisa is very thorough and diligent.”

“It’s not as great a system as they tell you it is,” Biagiarelli said.

The lien system’s language is outdated and not in compliance with State Statutes, and the software doesn’t have the proper gender references, she said.

Gorman agreed there are “hiccups,” while QDS is running “pretty smoothly” for the Assessment Department.

“There have been some problems that we’re overcoming with its interaction with our other major software, which is our assessing valuation software, called Vision,” Gorman said. His department didn’t have some of the programming but now the information is transferring well between the two softwares. “Hopefully, going to be providing Lisa with a good file to get those bills out in a timely fashion.”

Ford pitched the switch to QDS, with support from Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz, at multiple City meetings. Biagiarelli wasn’t asked her opinion.

Tax sale

Tax collectors were planning a tax sale in July, “the normal time to do it,” Biagiarelli said. But, “We were not able to get that sale off the ground due to the computer issues and other challenges that we had, with the delayed billing and so forth. So we’ve made the decision to put that sale off until next summer.”

She added, “We don’t think it will impact our collections at all.”

At the end of April, 98.16% of the adjusted levy had been collected, her report states. On behalf of the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA), 98.55% of the sewer use levy and 85.93% of the Industrial Pretreatment Program (IPP) fee billing had been collected. “Compared with the prior fiscal year (April, 2022) we are slightly behind relative to taxes (-0.82%), slightly ahead relative to sewer use (0.81%); and behind relative to the IPP fee (-5.51%).”

“You can see from the monthly report that we’re on target to where we need to be to meet our budgeted collection goals,” Biagiarelli said Thursday. “We would normally we would start working on a tax sale in the November before the sale. So we’ll start working on that sale this November in November of 2023. And have the sale the third or fourth Monday of July 2024.”

Tax levy ‘erosion’

“You’re still seeing the effects of the erosion to our receivables because of the court stipulated judgments,” Biagiarelli said.

In December, Biagiarelli said the tax levy had “been significantly reduced due to court stipulated judgments for taxpayers who have appealed their assessments.”

Her figures showed a $2 million drop in the 2021 Grand List for real estate and a $4.4 million drop in personal property.

Biagiarelli’s latest tax report shows it at as a $8,569,694.39 decrease at the end of April.

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