The list is out, and according to Gloucester Township, I’m a tax deadbeat.
This, despite the fact that I was still in the process of making payments for my county sewer bill, the most recent payment being 25 percent of the outstanding balance.
For many, getting a little behind on bills has become the rule rather than the exception. In most cases, if you make payments in good faith, your electricity won’t be shut off, your cable TV won’t be cut. But that’s not the case here.
In its holiday gift to more than 3,500 residents, the Township has scheduled a tax sale for exactly one week before Christmas. Ho ho ho! Many of the amounts in arrears are less than $100, and some are for $60 or less. Yet our tax office in all its wisdom has determined a tax sale is needed for these homeowners (and some businesses) lest they won’t get their payments with accumulated interest fast enough. Not to mention arbitrary “costs” – which nobody bothered to warn us about prior to the delinquent notice.
I’ve owned three homes in three different municipalities before moving here in 2011. I’ve gotten behind on some utilities bills here and there, but have never been threatened with a tax sale before. The term was new to me. Accumulating interest charges and escalating statements in the mail were always enough to inspire payment in as timely a manner as possible. I’m by no means a deadbeat.
From what I’ve read here, this is an “accelerated tax sale,” so basically, even if we had every intention of paying off our nut by Dec. 17—one business day prior—we’re still in tax sale status, which means this can’t be paid like any other debt.
At a time when many homeowners are struggling and maybe living paycheck-to-paycheck, shelling out several hundred or a few thousand dollars at once can mean taking food off the table, or more likely fewer presents for the kids under the Christmas tree. Happy Holidays!
So why didn’t we simply pay the sewer bill, or the property tax when it was due? No doubt everybody on this 102-page list planned to. But life probably intervened—a cut in work shifts or overtime, competing priorities like an unexpected car repair or a child needing braces. Sandy may have caused roof damage, or some felled trees that needed to be removed. In some cases, bills may have simply gotten misplaced, or misdelivered. For 10 months after moving here, I didn’t get a single South Jersey Gas bill because they had the wrong zip code. These things happen.
For the Township to go into “accelerated tax sale” mode and publicly embarrass people into paying their taxes when some of them are already making payments is reprehensible. And definitely not what I’d expect from a town that proclaims it’s "a great place to live, work and play."