The Mailman Did It

by Jon Baliles

They say bad news comes in threes, and this week is no exception for news from the City of Richmond’s Finance Department. This week wasn’t just raining; it has been a monsoon when it comes to sloppy administrative work, penalties, interest, and deflecting blame.

Madison McNamee with NBC12 filed a story last night that says a number of residents in the West End, all in the same area/street, never received their real estate tax bills and were fined with penalties and interest by the city for untimely payment. The residents on a street just off of Grove Avenue never got their bills and never knew about it until they were sent a hefty late fee with interest, and the residents were told it was the fault of the Postal Service.

Resident Ken Davis is a former Deputy Attorney General who said he always pays his city taxes and has lived in the neighborhood for decades, but got hit with $800 in fees and fines, which he paid immediately. He said under Section 58.1 3916 of Virginia Code that “penalty and interest for failure to file a return or to pay a tax shall not be imposed if such failure was not the fault of the taxpayer.”

He filed a waiver to get a refund but still can’t get an answer from the city. He called the Finance Department but was told by a clerk if the city mails a tax bill, it is the property owner’s responsibility after that. Davis believes all those in a similar situation should have the fees and penalties refunded.

There have been many stories in recent weeks about the problems with mail delivery all over the city, and who knows where the mail went, but it might be a problem the city needs to think about addressing with a solution of its own before mail delivery issues get worse. Of course, if the city can’t change a due date on software for an extended deadline that screws up 66,000 tax bills, it would be natural to lack a ton of confidence that the city could create online portals for all taxpayers to view and pay (or just view) their tax bills. Most utilities do it and a lot of localities do as well. We could and we should, but we don’t (except for the personal property tax bills, which they messed up).

Davis tells a story about one mail carrier who was seen putting stacks of mail under bushes, and he has since reported the missing mail issues to the FBI and the Postal Inspector General’s Office, as well as getting in touch with Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan’s office and Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin, who has been pushing the postal service to look into the missing mail problems.

No matter the outcome, Davis is (rightfully) upset: “A lot of damage has been done already and the only thing that will even partially repay, or remedy, or mitigate the damage that’s been done is a full refund of those tax penalties.”

The city’s reply to the inquiry from NBC12 was: “The City of Richmond hates that our residents are having this problem with the U.S. Postal Service. We continue to encourage residents to reach out to the post office to rectify this mailing issue.”

That is such a warming reply during the holiday season. It probably would not hurt to offer even a modicum of assistance (assuming you can get someone on the phone) and it would certainly be a nice change, not to mention the right thing to do. After all, Mayor Stoney has dubbed Richmond “A City of Compassion.”

Jon Baliles is a former Richmond city councilman. Republished with permission from RVA 5×5.