Westport's top 25 tax delinquents as of mid-June owed the town a total of nearly $1.3 million on properties ranging from commercial real estate on Post Road East to waterfront homes in some of the town's most exclusive neighborhoods.
Town records show 21 of the 25 owed back taxes for multiple years -- one as far back as 1998 -- and Tax Collector Peggy Klein said foreclosure notices are being prepared for some of them.
As of June 12 -- little more than two weeks before tax bills were due for the July 1 start of the 2014-15 fiscal year -- the owners of 229 properties were delinquent on the fiscal 2012 collection list, the most recent that is complete, Klein said.
A total of $1,636,725 was owed on the delinquent properties, the tax collector said.
Property tax details are public records, and the list of the top 25 delinquents as of June 12 was prepared by the Tax Collector's Office at the request of the Westport News.
No. 1 on the list is the owner of commercial property at 740 Post Road East. Post East LLC owes nearly $111,000 in taxes dating back to 2008 on property that now houses The Flower Fall, a custom floral shop.
No. 2 is the owner a home in exclusive Owenoke Park on which more than $96,000 is owed. No. 3 owes nearly $74,000 on the commercial property at 1680 Post Road East where A&J's Market in located.
Among the top 25 on that list, four made payments after the Westport News contacted them or left messages for comment.
Stanley Seligson, a real estate developer who is No. 4 on the list with unpaid taxes of nearly $73,000 as of June 12 on his Beachside Avenue estate, said the payment had "slipped through the cracks." On June 18, he said, "The error has been corrected as of today."
But tax records show Seligson made only a partial payment of $50,000 on June 19 -- enough that he was not among the top 25 delinquents as of that date. As of June 24, records show he remained delinquent for more than $23,000. His 3.5-acre estate has an assessed value of more than $7.5 million, according to the Assessor's office.
GLAD Enterprises, No. 9 on the list with nearly $54,000 owed on an Ulbrick Lane house it owns, has since paid the entire balance, Klein said.
Partial payments also were made by Nos. 11 and 14 on the list, owners of homes on Compo Road South and Wilton Road.
Miranda Chu, No. 24 on the list, said she planned to pay off the $33,378 owed on her Pond Road property "in the next few months by selling some other property." She said she and her husband have been having financial difficulties that include her being ill.
Most of the delinquents could not be reached for comment. Many did not return phone calls after voice messages were left for them. The published phone numbers of some others had been disconnected.
Two people who answered phones listed for the property owners -- including No. 3 Cuseo Family LLC, -- said the property is part of an estate that has not yet been settled in probate court.
Where property owners or business principals have died, Klein said, "our town attorney is trying to establish an estate for it."
The tax collector said her department was working with the town's Department of Human Services on "two or three" accounts where there are hardships
Each delinquent account is monitored by a committee that decides what action is to be taken Klein said.
She said delinquents represent a tiny fraction of taxpayers.
"Our collection rate is very good, especially if you take the deferred tax out of calculations," Klein said. For instance, the 2011 list collection rate is 98.53 percent, but if you take out the deferred tax from the calculation, the collection rate is 99.30 percent, she added.
A deferred tax, she said, is a benefit offered to senior citizens in town. "The program is based on age and income, and if you qualify, you can defer paying your real estate tax until such time when the home changes ownership," she said.
The interest rate on deferred taxes is low, she said, adding, "this year it is 4 percent."
In the past decade, Westport has collected more than 98 percent of taxes due even during the worst of times, finance director Gary G. Conrad said.
"Over the last 10 years, we ran at about 98.2 percent during the worst of the recession to 99.0 percent right before the market tanked in 2008," he said. The 99.3 percent (not including deferrals) is also in the range we have been in for the last ten years with a low of 99.02 percent to a high of 99.6 percent.
Interest on delinquent taxes 1.5 percent a month going back to the initial due date.
"For example," Klein said, "if you pay your July quarter on August 4, you are charged a 3.0 percent interest rate. This goes up by 1.50 percent each month," she said. "If you pay your July and October quarters in November, you pay 7.50 percent for the July quarter and 3.0 percent for the October quarter, or a total of 10.50 percent."
Klein said her department sends out delinquent notices for real estate tax in November each year and a lien notice in May of each year fiscal year, which begins July 1 and ends June 30.
An example is the new 2013 list year, which is based on the assessment of October 2013 and taxes become due this July and October and next January and April, she said.
"The tax office sends delinquent notices, demand notices ... we make phone calls both as a courtesy and to arrange payment plans," she said. "We work with our town attorney, and when necessary, a notice of foreclosure is sent," she said.
Klein said that since she became tax collector, the town has not foreclosed on any property.