St. Charles County residents now have some additional time to pay their 2011 real estate taxes.
In an emergency session Wednesday, the St. Charles County Council voted 6-1 to waive penalties for those who pay their real estate tax by Jan. 23. Council members said they took the action because the tax bills were mailed out late. The bills were supposed to be mailed out Dec. 1, but due to new software problems, they were mailed out Dec. 19.
“All we’re trying to do is give people the 30 days afforded to them by state law,” said Council Chairman Joe Brazil (R-District 2). “We’re just trying to give people the grace they deserve."
St. Charles County Collector Michelle McBride said the waiver is unnecessary. McBride said a larger number of people sent in their payments early or on time this year as compared to last year. The total collections are about 26 percent ahead of last year at this time, she told the council.
“I believe the heightened publicity increased the number of people who sent in their payments on time,” McBride told the council.
She said the county would eliminate an estimated $37,000 in interest payments that would go out to taxing districts, such as school, fire and library districts. County government would miss out on about $56,000 in late payment fees.
McBride said state statutes rule that failure to receive a bill does not mean a person will not be charged a late payment fee or interest charges.
“If someone truly has a case for the delay causing them to have late payment and interest, they have up to three years to request a refund, and the council has the authority to approve that refund,” McBride told the council.
But several council members said they believed the move is fair considering that tax bills were mailed late.
“A lot of people in my district called me about this, and a lot of them were elderly folks who don’t have Internet access and have been paying their tax bills for decades. Because they didn’t get (the tax bills) early enough, it threw their cycles off,” Cronin said.
“I think giving them extra time is a goodwill gesture on the county’s part,” he said.
Penalty waiver unfair?
McBride said county government should have waived penalties before the Dec. 31 deadline, not afterward.
After the meeting, County Executive Steve Ehlmann said that if the bill had been passed before the deadline, it would have encouraged residents to pay their bills late.
Jerry Daugherty (D-District 6) was the only council member to vote against the penalty waiver.
“I still don’t think this fair to the taxpayers who made the effort to come in and get their bills paid,” Daugherty said.
Councilman Terry Hollander (R-District 5) said that the council members recognize the extra effort many residents made to pay their bills on time.
“We in county government appreciate their efforts. We recognize their concern for citizenship and concern for getting their taxes paid. In no way does this bill minimize their effort or our appreciation for what they tried to do,” he said.
Councilwoman Nancy Matheny (R-District 3) said the bill is intended only for those who intended to pay their taxes on time. She said people who pay after Jan. 23 will pay the full penalties and interest accrued throughout the month.