Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena is warning those who are delinquent on their sewer maintenance fees that their homes could be up for tax sale as soon as February.
During an interview with the Sun Rise on the morning of Sept. 17, Polisena said the town has only collected $13,343.59 in sewer maintenance fees with an outstanding amount of $232,334.71. He said there are residents who have not paid the tax since its implementation in 2011.
“This is not fair that people are not paying, and we will put their house up for sale,” Polisena said from his Town Hall office. “I can guarantee them that. And once again, we’re not going to waive the interests. We’re not going to waive the penalty. I don’t want to hear that they never got the bill because the bill goes exactly where the tax bill goes.”
Sewer maintenance fees – which were recently increased from $110 to $150 per year for two- to four-family homes – cover a wide range of services for the town lines, including the clearing of backups and flushes. Polisena said that shortfalls in the sewer maintenance fees have to be covered from elsewhere in the budget.
Polisena said those who owe would be sent a letter from the town’s legal counsel with a $15 fee attached. A second letter, should it be necessary, would carry an additional $410 fee. He said that, no matter how little or how much is due in fees, homes would go up for sale if residents couldn’t pay.
“So whether they owe $200 or $400, their house will go up for tax sale,” Polisena said emphatically. “That will probably take place in February. We are following the procedure. As I said we have every right to charge the people who have a sewer for a sewer maintenance tax, if you will, and we’re going to have a sewer maintenance tax sale and their houses will be put up for sale and their names will be in the paper and they've got to pay.”
Polisena said he didn’t know how many homes will be up for tax sale in the winter, saying “it’s up to them, we’ll put them all up.” He even said that if residents come in and they are “fresh” to town employees, the police would be called.
“They could actually forfeit their homes if they’re going to tax sale for a few hundred dollars that they owe,” Polisena said. “We have to do this, we have to operate the town like a business and everyone has to pay their fair share. Many of the people that owe that are stiffing the taxpayers. They would be the first to call at 2 o’clock in the morning saying ‘I can’t flush my toilet,’ and we’d have to send a two-man crew over to correct the situation.”
Polisena continued to emphasize that the refusal to pay sewer maintenance fees isn’t fair to those who are non-sewered, like the mayor himself, who would have to eventually cover the cost.
“I want to say it loud and clear, don’t ask, don’t insult the ladies that work here, we don’t waive interest and we don’t waive penalties,” Polisena repeated. “If that was the case, nobody would pay their taxes if there was no penalty or interest and then wait until their house went up for sale and they might be three or four years in arrears and that’s not fair … Hopefully they won’t insult my intelligence, and don’t ask the ladies to waive, we don’t waive interest and penalties.”
The mayor added that the town had a tax sale last week, collecting more than $221,000 that day alone. He didn’t mince words in saying he would be willing to hold another.
“If they want their names in the paper, and their neighbors are going to see that they’re deadbeats, that’s fine,” Polisena said. “We have to operate a town here. The good old days are gone, when people never paid their taxes and got away with it.”
Polisena noted at the start of the interview that the town has added a feature to report homestead exemption fraud on its website. The Town Council recently changed the homestead exemption requirements, compelling residents to provide their address to the DMV and provide proof of where the vehicle is registered.
That amendment came on the heels of an incident at Town Hall, as told by Polisena at the August Council meeting, after a man had his homestead exemption revoked for reportedly registering cars outside of town.
“I’ve been getting phone calls from lots of neighbors that their car’s registered in another state or another town,” Polisena said. “I asked people if they see someone that has a Florida plate, that they get the plate for us because we call Florida to check, obviously. We will remove the homestead if they’re illegally registering their cars. I know some people play the game.”
Polisena said residents can use the online tool or call Town Hall at 553-8800 to leave a message with the plate number.
“We’re not going to go on witch hunts, but we will obviously pursue everything we can and if someone is illegally, because with the new ordinance with the homestead, they have to have their cars registered in Johnston,” Polisena said.