Oxford officials will seek advice from a Superior Court judge to help them determine how to fix a controversial list of delinquent taxpayers that is believed to contain the names of hundreds of people who actually paid their taxes on time and in full.
In a letter he drafted to First Selectman George Temple, town counsel Kevin Condon said Oxford is “contemplating filing a declaratory judgment action seeking direction from the Superior Court regarding the manner in which to legally remove all issues stemming from the alleged theft of taxpayer money by former tax collector” Karen Guillet. Guillet is accused of stealing more than $670,000 from the tax office during her 24-year tenure as tax collector, an elected position. She faces criminal and civil charges in separate cases pending at Milford Superior Court.
The Board of Selectmen voted 3-0 at its last meeting at to allow Condon to move forward with his efforts to seek a declaratory judgment, which Condon states “simply declares the rights of the parties or expresses the opinion of the court on a question of law, without ordering anything to be done.”
“Our goal is to have a document that is first reliable and doesn’t accuse someone of not paying taxes when they have,” Temple said. “This is a can of worms, and we want to sort it out.”
More Than $10 Million in Back Taxes Identified
The list of delinquent taxpayers has been a major local issue since February, when Temple held a press conference to discuss how his administration discovered a 41-page list of delinquent taxpayers that showed more than $10.2 million in back taxes was owed to Oxford by almost 2,000 taxpayers. The list, which showed interest and penalties, included people who may have paid but whose names still showed up as delinquent because of potentially illegal practices by Guillet. Officials believe she did not credit people’s accounts, even though they paid, so she could hide her elaborate embezzlement scheme.
Temple made it clear in February that the list was not accurate and that the town was going to work toward correcting it. He released the list so that people could find out if their names were on it and then work to resolve the issue with the current tax collector, Cayenne Spremullo, who was elected in November and had nothing to do with Guillet’s alleged crimes.
Taxpayers, some who were angry that their names were on the list and/or that the list was publicized, went to Town Hall to show proof that they paid. Many taxpayers didn’t have proof because the list went back some 15 years and they had gotten rid of receipts. Spremullo made note of hundreds of people who had proof of payment. But, by law, their names still could not be taken off the list, which is a main reason why the town is seeking advice of a judge.
Condon states in his letter that “in certain cases, the Board of Selectmen and the tax collector may be required to excuse, abate, forgive, modify, or enforce the collection of said taxes.”
“While the town charter is clear along with the Connecticut state law that a municipality has the power to levy taxes, it remains unclear to what extent taxes may be modified, excused, or abated,” the letter states. “Therefore, it may be in the best interest of the Town to seek an opinion from the Superior Court dis-positive of the issues of collection, forgiveness, or modification of property taxes.”
By law, the town must run two legal notices in local newspapers to notify people of the delinquent tax list.
Temple said there is no case law for this type of situation.
“We want a judge to tell us how to get people off the list and come up with a workable list that is reliable,” he said. “We have to do this right. If we don’t do it right, we will be here 10 years from now, 15 years from now with the same problem. …We’re going to straighten this out.”
‘Stupidity Was Shared By All’
David Stocker, chairman of the Oxford Republican Town Committee, publicly praised Temple at the last selectmen meeting for his response after learning of the delinquent tax list.
“I think after the initial shock, people were OK with it,” he said. “I think it was a brilliant move to put the names out. People didn’t know their names were on the list. I think it saved the town a big amount of money….It would have cost a fortune to contact every single person on the list.”
In response, Temple quipped: “Thank you very much, but where were you when they were going to tar and feather me?”
Ann Krane, chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee, also spoke at the meeting, questioning how this issue with Guillet, a Democrat, went out for 24 years without anyone noticing.
“If the revenue list doesn’t match what’s coming in, shouldn’t auditors pick up on this?” she questioned.
Temple said Guillet duped a lot of people. “The stupidity was shared by all,” he said.
In response to concerns about auditing procedures, Temple said Oxford’s auditors audit the town’s procedures more than they do the dollars and cents that come in.
“Let me assure you that we’ve got a brand new system now,” he said. () “Never say never, but if it happens again, they are a genius.”