Mercifully, we’ve completed our tax filings and now it’s up to the IRS to do its thing. But going through that exercise reminded me of a post I’d been meaning to write a while back on the issue of long-term personal property tax account balances that the town of Wellesley was attempting to collect from business owners. With the tax deadlines for businesses unchanged and for individuals looming though extended to May, I’ve circled back to it.
We’d been shown an ad last fall that the town paid to run in a newspaper, and because it ran in a newspaper instead of on a site like ours that people actually read, hardly anyone would have seen it. We’ve decided not to republish the list here, since the roster of 50 businesses on it could be outdated by this time.
But suffice it to say that it featured many familiar business names, from fashion retailers to restaurants to property owners (not to mention one business that stiffed us on paying for ads a few years back). Some on the list, like Bertucci’s and Pinkberry, are now long gone from Wellesley.
Just to clarify what personal property even means in the context of this tax, the town website states that it “consists of tangible, movable assets such as merchandise, furnishings, machinery, tools, animals, and equipment. The tax is primarily incurred by businesses and is assessed separately from real estate in the town where the property is situated.”
I had asked Marc Waldman, while writing a post on his retirement in November as the town’s longtime treasurer, what all this personal property business was about. Does Wellesley take such an approach to collecting delinquent personal property taxes every year given that the money does contribute to the town’s general revenue?
“No. Personal Property Tax, unlike Real Estate Tax has very few mechanisms for collection. The law requires that we advertise delinquent Real Estate Tax bills before going through a Tax Taking process and that is done every year,” Waldman said. “No such rules apply to Personal Property Tax. We can turn over delinquent bills to an outside collection agency known as the Deputy Collector and that is what this advertising effort is in preparation for. Many of these bills are small, particularly in comparison to Real Estate Tax bills.”
We’re talking an $18.89 tab from 2019 from one retailer to a high of $7,911.41 from one since departed fashion retailer that stemmed from the 2014 tax year. Some of the bills go back as far as 2010.
In all, Wellesley usually collects about $1.45M in personal property taxes, despite the deadbeats.
Changes brought about by the pandemic spurred the town to address unpaid personal property taxes this past year, Waldman said.
“With the reduction on staff priorities due to us not being open to the public and the greatly reduced volume of parking ticket work, we finally had time to concentrate on these delinquent Personal Property accounts. Businesses tend to be very transient and we have had to do a lot of research to identify the proper ownership and mailing information for these businesses,” he said.
Reasons for why these taxes don’t get paid vary. The town doesn’t always have the correct billing information because there is no real process for most businesses to register with the town, Waldman said. Though when the town does have information on the businesses, it sends them bills, demand notices or delinquent letters. Some business owners ignore all this. Others, which perhaps don’t get the notices, don’t realize they’re obligated to pay them in Massachusetts.
Waldman’s successor as town treasurer, Rachel Lopes, confirmed that the town is still actively looking to collect on delinquent personal property taxes, and you can expect another big effort come fall.