No doubt, no one likes to pay taxes but the desire for City services keeps going up, taking the costs up, and making taxes necessary to pay the bills for all those services that we expect in Kent.
Taxes are the deal we make to live in a community.
The City’s job is to make sure we’re providing real value with those City services, stretching tax dollars as far as they can go and getting the biggest bang for the buck. The taxpayer’s job is to pay their fair share.
Sounds simple enough but in a community with a reasonably high turnover in residents year after year, it can be hard to motivate short timers to ante-up during their time in Kent and even harder for a small City office staff to track them down when they don’t pay.
As a result, over the last 4 years we had approximately 5,000 names on our list of Kent residents that had ducked out of paying their fair share. Given the City’s mounting fiscal pressures, it became clear that we couldn’t look the other way and something had to be done to improve our tax collection rate.
In 2009 the City converted it’s tax services to RITA, the regional tax agency that is used by cities all over northeast Ohio, in order to upgrade our tax efficiencies and take advantage of the greater resources available through RITA. We still have a City employee available as a point of contact for our residents with RITA but overall RITA manages the City’s tax services.
Like any big switch, there have been some bumps along the way (and I still think that our internal staff have a leg up on RITA in the area of customer service but I am admittedly biased) but as a business decision, the transition to RITA has proven to be a solid and effective move.
One area of that move that has proven particularly effective is using RITA to track down local non-payers through the access that RITA has to the Federal IRS tax reports that are not available to cities of Kent’s size. Now, when tax scofflaws skip town, RITA can track them through their Federal income tax returns and subpoena them to pay back what they owe in Kent.
RITA has taken tax collections to a whole new level and after the first year of using the subpoena program RITA tracked down some 2,100 residents and collected approximately $125,000 in past-due tax bills to Kent. RITA charges roughly $8 per subpoena so the City paid RITA about $16,000 and we should clear in excess of $100,000.
Believe it or not, we don’t actually like to use a heavy handed approach in tax collections but given our finance challenges, it seemed appropriate to step up our collection efforts to send a signal that we’re serious about everyone paying their fair share and no one is above the law in these tough times.