Taxpayer: ‘Give me full 30 days’

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

REIMBURSED — David Turnbull stands in front of his home off Cooks Mills Road in Naples. Turnbull was reimbursed for the cost of having a lien removed and some paperwork filing fees after the town had placed a lien on his property before his 30-day period had expired.

NAPLES — A community member has questioned the Town of Naples’ timeline for levying liens on properties which have back taxes due.

In response, Naples Town Manager Derik Goodine has changed the lien filing procedure so residents have the entire business day to pay the debt before the lien process starts.

Also, the town will return $53 to resident David Turnbull. The reimbursement includes the cost of having the lien removed and some paperwork filing fees that Turnbull paid to the town last week, Goodine said.

On the 30th day after Turnbull received the letter warning him of the impending lien, he drove to the Naples Town Office to pay his property tax bill.

Turnbull was surprised and angry, when he learned the lien against his property was already in effect on Aug. 10 — the day he had circled on his calendar to get together the money he needed to bring his tax bill to zero.

At the town office, he was also informed he had to pay a $50 fee to have the lien removed because it had been filed with the Registry of Deeds in Portland early that morning.

“If you are going to give me 30 days to pay, then, give me the full 30 days,” Turnbull said. “I paid my taxes before the 30 days were up, but they had already filed the lien. I paid my tax bill at 11:44 a.m. I have the receipt for it.”

He added, “It is practices like this that upset me, especially in this economy.”

Turnbull begrudgingly paid the additional cost to have the lien removed. A veteran who served in the military from 1980 to 1984, Turnbull explained to town staff that much of the past month was taken up driving to and from the Maine Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Medical Center, which is located on the outskirts of Augusta.

Turnbull was frustrated that despite his hardships, the town clerk “refused to budge an inch” to provide him with the remaining business day to pay the debt.

Town Clerk Judy Whynot told Turnbull the lien filing protocol had been that way for a number of years, and she could not make an exception for him.

On Aug. 12, Turnbull had a phone conversation with Goodine. At that time, Goodine agreed to reimburse Turnbull the $53 he paid to have the lien lifted. The reimbursement check was mailed to Turnbull on Tuesday.

Goodine said it was a fair policy to hold off on filing liens until after the end of the business day. Although people have 30 days to take care of the overdue tax bill, some residents might be counting on having the whole business day to comply with the 30-day deadline, Goodine said. That payment deadline falls 30 calendar days after the property owner receives a warning letter via registered mail, he said.

Improved computer software has expedited the process, which could take as long as two days in the past, he said. From now on, town staff will begin filing the liens on the morning of the 31st day, Goodine said.

Turnbull said he is “pleased with the outcome.”

“It’s good to be getting my money back,” he said, referring to the reimbursement.

He is glad that the town will extend by 24 hours the time that liens are filed, and that a necessary policy change was made.

“It was the process for the Town of Naples, and they’ve been doing it that way for years,” he said. “I am not the only one this practice has affected. I bet other people have paid the $50 to have the lien taken off, because it was filed before the 30 days was up. And, that’s when they went into the town offices to pay.”

Turnbull added, “Me, being the procrastinator, I waited until the last day to get the money and pay the bill.”

Now, Turnbull is on a crusade, saying other town officials should examine the policy of when they file liens on the property of people who have gotten behind in their taxes.

“Going to court would have challenged every town in Maine, and when they file liens on property,” said Turnbull. “It shouldn’t be a gray area — it’s black and white. If you get a letter that says you have 30 days, you should have 30 days. Granted I wasn’t so great at paying my taxes on time, but the town wasn’t practicing proper ethics by filing the lien before the end of the 30th day.”

Turnbull said he “outright owns the property” off Cooks Mills Road. Through foreclosure, he purchased the home and land, which was previously owned by his parents.

In the past — with other pieces of property he has owned — his property taxes were included in his monthly mortgage payment, he said.

“This is the first time I’ve been presented with this problem,” he said, of playing catch-up with his property taxes.

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