Auditor identifies data collection problems at Tax Department

The state auditor’s office says the Tax Department does not have sufficient data to determine whether it’s doing a good job at collecting delinquent income taxes.

The auditor’s office released a report Monday saying the department was able to collect about half of the personal income taxes that were delinquent in 2013 and 2014, but “was unable to assess the effectiveness of its collection methods.”

Doug Hoffer

State Auditor Doug Hoffer. File photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

State Auditor Doug Hoffer said in an interview that the Tax Department has “completely inadequate” information technology systems for tracking who has not paid their taxes and how long those bills have been delinquent.

“They really have not had the ability to do any of the things that you would expect if you were going to do an internal self-evaluation,” Hoffer said. “It was very challenging for us to even get data, and we had to switch gears a number of times in the process.”

The audit report said the office chose to look at delinquent personal income taxes — as opposed to those paid by corporations or property owners — because the money made up about 41 percent of all delinquent taxes in 2013 and 2014.

The audit says that, as of July 24, the Department of Taxes had collected $12.9 million from more than 25,000 accounts that were due between 2013 and 2014. Those accounts had an original balance of about $22.5 million.

Roughly 5,000 other accounts worth $12.4 million were closed without payment; the report says that could have happened because the people did not end up owing money after they filed relevant paperwork. An additional $7.2 million was still owed on July 24.

The report says that accounts may be adjusted on a case-by-case basis for penalties, interest and additional taxpayer information, so the amounts collected and still owed don’t add up to the original total balance.

The report says the Department of Taxes filed liens in 666 cases to recover delinquent taxes. An additional 181 accounts were being paid back using installment plans. Other cases remained in a grace period in which the department waits for a person to pay the tax bill late, instead of actively collecting the money.

The auditors had trouble finding data to determine whose wages had been garnished to pay taxes, and whose professional licenses were in jeopardy of being revoked for not paying taxes.

“Other collection methods, such as offsets to lottery winnings and bank levy, are available to (the Department of Taxes) but have not been used,” the report says.

The report makes eight recommendations to help the Tax Department improve how it collects on delinquent accounts. Those include referring more accounts to collection agencies within about six months and working with the Vermont Lottery to see if the state can collect delinquent taxes from lottery winnings.

Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson wrote in response that the audit is “a snapshot from the rear view mirror” because the department is working to modernize tax collection through an IT system called VTax.

“When Phase 3 of VTax goes live later this year, we will have the capability to fully adopt all of the business process improvements that our compliance division has been developing,” Peterson wrote.

She added that the data issues the auditor’s office highlighted represent the constraints of legacy IT systems and that delinquent tax collection “can and will be improved greatly with the rapid transition to VTax.”

Erin Mansfield

Comment Policy

VTDigger.org requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Be succinct and to the point. If your comment is over 500 words, consider sending a commentary instead.

We personally review and moderate every comment that is posted here. This takes a lot of time; please consider donating to keep the conversation productive and informative.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage a civil discourse among readers who are willing to stand behind their identities and their comments. VTDigger has created a safe zone for readers who wish to engage in a thoughtful discussion on a range of subjects. We hope you join the conversation. If you have questions or concerns about our commenting platform, please review our Commenting FAQ.

Privacy policy
Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Auditor identifies data collection problems at Tax Department"