Johnston is poised to put 280 pieces of property – predominantly homes – up for sewer tax sale on March 12, but those who are delinquent on their fees still have time to pay.
Mayor Joseph Polisena and Deputy Tax Collector Bethany Alviano said that while a significant dent has been put into the outstanding fees in the past few months, the town is still owed almost $100,000.
Polisena explained the timeline starting last summer, when a July 25 letter was sent to those in town who were delinquent on sewer fees between 2011 and 2017. When the notice was sent, the town was owed an outstanding amount of $245,678.30. Between that date and Sept. 16, only $13,343.59 was collected.
Another letter was sent from an attorney, with a $15 fee, on Oct. 9 again notifying residents who were behind and offering a due date of Nov. 9. Polisena noted that the letter stated if fees were not paid by Nov. 9, an additional $410 legal fee would be added.
Most recently, a third letter was sent certified mail on Jan. 29, saying that the home or piece of property would be listed as part of a sewer tax sale for public action. As of Feb. 3, the town is still owed $98,409.
“There are some people that haven’t paid since we implemented it, so quite frankly when people don’t pay that means that other taxpayers are paying for their sewer maintenance fee,” Polisena said in his office on Tuesday. “In the west end, people don’t have sewers. So if someone doesn’t pay their sewer maintenance fee, what happens is, other taxpayers have to pay for their fee. We’re not going to have that.”
The town charges sewer fees in order to maintain its lines, recently approving a $40 increase from $110 to $150 for one- to four-family homes. That Town Council-approved spike included an increase from $300 to $500 for five- to 12-unit dwellings, while dwellings with more than 12 units were hiked from $500 to $1,500. Commercial units rose from $150 to $500, while industrial buildings saw a significant jump from $325 to $1,500.
During an August interview with the Sun Rise, Polisena was quick to point out that the town’s sewer fees are nominal compared to other communities, as some areas charge at least triple the amount in Johnston.
“We’re obligated by EPA and DEM to maintain the sewer lines,” the mayor said. “And there’s a schedule, the guys go out and blow the lines out every day. They go to different areas, there’s a weekly log that’s kept. Plus we’re responsible for the sewer pumping stations. If the pump doesn't work, it might cost us $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 to put a new pump in. I wish that we didn’t have to be responsible for the sewer lines, but we are.”
Polisena repeatedly expressed that the town would not waive interest and penalties for those seeking to pay their balance. He said another tax sale is possible for the fall, covering those who are delinquent on sewer fees from 2018 and 2019.
Alviano said the most common response she hears from residents is that they never got their bill, which she and Polisena said is easy to disprove.
“She’ll look it up and say, ‘You paid this in 2012 and 2013.’ ‘Oh. Oh, oh.’ It’s got to be paid. It’s not fair to the taxpayers, and it’s not fair for those people who do pay the sewer maintenance fee,” Polisena said. “Their house will be put up for auction. They can call whoever they want. Their houses are going up for sale. We’re tired of it, we really are. Ninety-nine percent of the taxpayers are paying for them to have a free ride.”
Alviano said fees can be paid up until March 11, but residents have to pay before the end of business today, Feb. 6, in order for their names not to appear in a notice in the newspaper.
“A lot of people have never even made a payment,” Alviano said. “The majority of these, they haven’t even made one payment. Every year they get notified what they owe for back taxes.”
Alviano explained that, during a tax sale, someone can buy the home or property, pay the taxes and a lien is placed on it. Ten percent interest is added from day one, and 1 percent is tacked on each month from there.
She said the owner has a year plus one day to pay back what they owe, but once that timeline expires the buyer can foreclose on the home. Polisena said the March 12 tax sale – set for 10 a.m. at Johnston Municipal Court – could provide interested parties with “good deals.”
“So if someone owes a sewer or water bill, they can pick up a house for $2,000 or $3,000, plus they’re getting interest on the money they used,” Polisena said. “In Johnston, the real estate value is always high, so they love coming here. So some person that basically didn’t want to pay their sewer maintenance bill for whatever reason, could end up losing their property … The good old boys from the bad old days, those days are gone. You’ve got to put your foot down.”