Richmond sends woman four years of property tax bills at once after error: 'I don't trust the city'

Posted at 7:12 AM, May 26, 2023

RICHMOND, Va -- A Richmond woman said she believes the city's finance department needs additional oversight after making a big error that will cause thousands of taxpayers to owe more money to the city this year.

On Wednesday, CBS 6 reported that thecity incorrectly assessed more than 13,000 vehicles in tax year 2022 at a lower value than it should have. Because of the error, the city is making those impacted citizens pay the difference on their 2023 property tax bills — and giving them little notice to do so.

Now, a resident tells the CBS 6 Problem Solvers that she's been having issues with her property taxes dating back to 2019, and it's taken the city four years to fix them.

Laurie Leitao said this month, the city sent her bills for her 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 property taxes that she'll essentially have to pay all at the same time.

When Leitao moved to a new home in the city in 2019, she said she didn't receive a property tax bill, and the trend continued for a few more years.

In 2022, Leitao said she called the city to report the issue, and the finance department opened up a case.

However, she said the city never contacted her again to rectify the program.

Fast forward to May 2023, and Leitao said she received a debt collection letter in the mail alerting her that she owes property taxes.

Leitao frantically called the city again and said they were able to then identify the problem.

"They found my case, and they were like, 'Oh my gosh, your case has been open for a year, and no one has contacted you,'" she said.

The following day, Leitao said a financial regulatory technician said the issue boiled down to a "DMV import error" which caused Leitao's vehicle to be taken out of the city's system in 2018. That caused the vehicle to not roll over to the 2019 annual tax billing year.

The technician recalled the bills that were sent to collections and removed penalty and interest fees. They could not back-tax Leitao for 2019 because that bill was "out of statue."

However, the city sent Leitao a new bill for taxes owed in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Leitao was made aware of those charges on May 9, and the city gave her until May 24 to pay them all.

On top of that, Leitao also must pay her 2023 taxes by June 5. All of the bills combined will cost her more than $1,000 in a two-week time period.

"I'm a first-time home buyer and I have a lot of bills to take care of myself, so this is a big expense that most people don't have laying around. I know I sure don't," Leitao said.

Leitao said the problem should have been caught sooner.

"I apologize for the inconvenience on behalf of the City of Richmond," the technician wrote Leitao in an email.

Due to the issues that she has experienced, in addition to other recent mistakes, she feels the finance department should be audited.

“We need to maybe hire a company, like or an auditing service or something, somebody to take a look at every single Finance Department property tax, maybe real estate taxes, cause I’m sure there are other issues out there," she said. "I don't know if the city needs to hire more people, take more calls, maybe update their systems. I don't know, just something along those lines. But yeah, I don't have any trust in the city.”

Before the 2022 vehicle assessment error came to light, Richmond's audit committee had already directed an audit of personal property taxes from tax year 2022. That audit is underway.

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