Approximately $4.65 million in delinquent real-estate taxes currently are owed to the town, according to the Tax Collector's Department.
The 25 largest delinquent tax bills owed to the town include 18 residential properties and seven commercial holdings, according to the data released Wednesday at the request of the Westport News.
A homeowner in the Compo Beach neighborhood has the highest unpaid tax bill in Westport, the tax records indicate. Suzanne Dache Gauld owes approximately $188,000 in taxes on 17 Bluewater Hill, with her oldest unpaid bill dating to the 2007-08 fiscal year, according to the Tax Collector's records. That same property ranked No. 2 last year among delinquent real-estate properties.
The Bluewater Hill property has an appraised value of about $3.2 million, according to Vision Appraisal, an online assessor database.
Dache Gauld did not respond to a letter sent last week by the Westport News seeking comment on her unpaid tax bill. She could not be reached by phone.
The Westport News also sent letters last week seeking comment from the other property owners listed on the Tax Collector's list of the top 25 tax delinquents. However, none responded with on-the-record comments.
The delinquent tax list includes only past-due taxes, not deferred taxes.
Paul and Mary Gojkovich have the second-highest unpaid town tax bill, owing approximately $144,000 on their property at 238 Greens Farms Road.
Five Hundred Main Street Properties LLC, the owner of a commercial property at 500 Main St., has the third-highest delinquent tax bill, totaling about $119,000.
A year ago, the erstwhile owners of 5 Post Road West, a downtown commercial building on the west bank of the Saugatuck River, had the highest delinquent tax bill, owing about $190,000 to the town. That debt was paid off when the building was acquired for $2.475 million in February 2012 by its current owners, Ansley Westport Riverside LLC.
Town officials say the tax-delinquent properties are not representative of tax-collection trends in Westport. The town posted a tax-collection rate of about 98.1 percent as of June 30, 2012, according to Tax Collector Peggy Klein. Not including deferred real-estate taxes, that rate totaled about 98.9 percent, according to Klein.
"I think we're doing very, very well, considering the economy," Klein said of the tax-collection rate. "We have payment plans in place, we contact people and we stay on top of it. We are very diligent. We don't just send out a note and let that be the end of it. When we see people falling behind, we get in touch with them."
The town so far has a tax-collection rate of 73.36 percent for the current fiscal year that ends June 30, according to Klein. A year ago at the same point in the last fiscal year, the town had a 73.31 percent tax-collection rate.
"The collection of these owed taxes is one of the critical components for the Board of Finance in determining the setting of the mill rate, so it is most desirable to come as close to 100 percent as possible," said Michael Rea, chairman of the Board of Finance's revenue-enhancement subcommittee. "When delinquency increases, the burden to subsidize this missing revenue falls on non-delinquent taxpayers."
The Board of Finance set a property tax rate of 17.91 mills, or $17.91, for every $1,000 of assessed real estate value for the current fiscal year.
Real estate tax bills are due July 1 of each year; the town collects those taxes quarterly. Property owners have one month to pay their quarterly tax bill without penalty. If they did not meet that deadline, interest accrues at 1.5 percent per month going back to the due date and increases by an additional 1.5 percent for every month that they do not pay those taxes.
The town sends out delinquency notices in November to cover the first two quarters. Lien notices go out in May for any balance due. If those individuals do not pay off their tax bills for the current fiscal year by the end of June, their delinquent properties are liened by the town.
The town also has a foreclosure review committee -- members are Klein, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Finance Director Gary Conrad, Town Attorney Ira Bloom and Human Services Director Barbara Butler -- that monitors tax-delinquent properties and determines appropriate action regarding those accounts. Such responses can ultimately include the town foreclosing on a tax-delinquent property.
"The town is not inclined to begin foreclosure proceedings too quickly because we try to work with our residents," Bloom said. "We don't ignore the delinquencies; we try to get people to pay in full, and if there are arrears, we try to get them to start making payments on the arrears. Foreclosure is the last resort."
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WESTPORT'S TOP TAX DELINQUENTS
The following list incoudes the owners of the properties with the 25 largest delinquent real-estate tax bills owed to the town as of Wednesday, according to the Tax Collector's Office. Those bills include only past-due taxes, not deferred taxes. (Years in parentheses indicate the fiscal years during which each property owner's earliest tax bills came due.)
1. Suzanne Dache Gauld, 17 Bluewater Hill, $187,624 (2008-09)
2. Mary and Paul Gojkovich, 238 Greens Farms Road, $143,516 (2007-08)
3. 500 Main Street Properties LLC, 500 Main St., $119,489 (2007-08)
4. Stanley and Carole Seligson, 92 Beachside Ave., $109,088 (2012-13)
5. Terry Friedberg, 118 Wilton Road, $97, 029 (2007-08)
6. Post East LLC, 740 Post Road East, $95,662 (2008-09)
7. Erling C. Christophersen, trustee, 259 Saugatuck Ave., $95,113 (2010-11)
8. Erling C. Christophersen, trustee, 1 Charmers Landing, $79,832 (2011-12)
9. Michael Calise, 215 Post Road West, $78, 924 (2011-12)
10. Dale and Domenica Marshall, 38 Sturges Commons, $67,858 (2009-10)
11. Michael Calise, 8 Sylvan Road South, $60,441 (2008-09)
12. 500 Main Street Properties LLC, 498 Main St., $56,338 (2007-08)
13. Tabitha Purdy Song, 10 Apple Tree Trail, $50,595 (2009-10)
14. Ralph and Lynn Hymans, 1 Rex Lane, $50,456 (2008-09)
15. One Morningside Group LLC, 1 Morningside Drive North, $48,144 (2012-13)
16. DIV Riverside Loan LLC, 325 Riverside Ave., $46,597 (2012-13)
17. 340 Compo Road South LLC, 340 Compo Road South, $42,550 (2010-11)
18. 130 Beachside Avenue Corp., 130 Beachside Ave., $41,365 (2012-13)
19. Westport Fish & Poultry Market LLC, 732 Post Road East, $41,019 (2011-12)
20. Greg and Elizabeth Fern, 4 Kimberly Drive, $40,965 (2009-10)
21. Charles Bassman, 363 Main St., $40,754 (2008-09)
22. Wilhemina Wirth, 32 Hale St., $39,908 (2005-06)
23. Pasquale Malpeso Jr., 50 Compo Mill Cove, $38,526 (2012-13)
24. Carolena Petisi, 199 Hillspoint Road, $36,464 (2011-12)
25. Bruce and Joan Nemirow, 54 Lyons Plains Road, $33,467 (2012-13)